Determining Wuthering Heights

Ideology, Intertexts, Tradition

by María Valero Redondo (Author)
Monographs XIV, 366 Pages

Table Of Content

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This book has been written over a number of years, and during this journey I have received much aid and assistance. First of all, I am especially grateful to Professor Julián Jiménez Heffernan for his close, continuous involvement in the writing of this book, his essential encouragement, and his kindness in accepting to write the afterword. I owe him a continuing debt of gratitude.

An abridged version of Chapter 3 has been previously published in Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies. I should like to thank the editors of this journal for granting permission to incorporate this material into a larger argument: “Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen: Rousseaunian Nature, Implosive Communities and the Performative Subversion of the Law,” Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies, vol. 62, 2020, pp. 147–165.

I would also like to thank my editors at Peter Lang Publishing, Dr. Meagan Simpson and Abdur Rawoof, for believing in this book and for assisting me in the publishing process.

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“Until then I had thought each book spoke of the things, human or divine, that lie outside of books. Now I realized that non infrequently books speak of books: it is as if they spoke among themselves. In the light of this reflection, the library seemed all the more disturbing to me.”

(Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose 286)

Recent criticism on Emily Brontë and her novel has tried to correct the deep-rooted belief that Emily Bronte was a literary “genius” isolated in the moors of Haworth. Twenty-first century scholarship on Wuthering Heights and the Brontës has built on previous critical currents (psychoanalysis, Marxism, feminism, post-colonialism) and has given due attention to the broader, social, historical and cultural factors that had been disregarded by earlier critics. Indeed, an overview of recent Brontë scholarship indicates that issues of class, gender and race are still discussed, reinvigorated with a detailed attention to historical/cultural context and—often but not always—directed by close textual analysis. Two important critical shifts have lately cropped up: an increasing sociological attention to cultural studies on the one hand and an emphasis on interdisciplinarity on the other. Hence, discussions of (and disagreements about) Wuthering Heights and its author abound. And yet, for all these critical developments, the most quoted critical ←1 | 2→assessment of Wuthering Heights remains F.R. Leavis’s statement that Wuthering Heights “is a kind of sport” (27) and it would be hard to prove that scholars who quote Leavis’s diagnostic blast are not in full agreement with him. Briefly put, the dominantly sociological critical consensus on the novel persists in construing it as an anomaly. In opposition to these prevailing critical currents of the twenty-first century, which tend to overlook the literary dimension that overdetermines the novel, I engage with literary and ideological meaning-construction devices in Wuthering Heights, and I do so by trying to take very carefully into account the literary context of the period.

Wuthering Heights is indeed an anomalous text if we look at it having in mind the more or less perfectly designed novels of the late Victorian period but—and this is my central claim—Emily Brontë’s novel is not such an anomalous text if we look at it having in mind some eighteenth and nineteenth-century texts, especially narratives. The singularity of Wuthering Heights can only be explained (and resolved) if the novel is placed in comparison with those texts that, although unwittingly contributing to the stabilization of the novel in the Victorian literary field, did not yet possess the near-teleological drive and normative pedigree this form would gradually acquire in the work of George Eliot, Anthony Trollope and Thomas Hardy. Recent criticism on Wuthering Heights attempts to postulate the existence of a determinate and retrievable meaning of Wuthering Heights by paying attention to biographical, historical, cultural, and thematic contexts or by providing Marxist, feminist or postcolonial readings of the text. Although they offer illuminating and groundbreaking readings of some dimensions of Wuthering Heights, these unilateral readings tend to flatten and instrumentalize the text by neglecting the intertextual mediations that lurk around it. My chief contribution, on this plane, is to postulate a determinate intertextual meaning of Wuthering Heights and to enrich its heterogeneity by examining its dialogic relation with previous, contemporary and subsequent texts. My emphasis on the determinate nature of narrative meaning seeks to resist the lure of indeterminacy that very often vitiates deconstructive approaches to Victorian fiction, including Wuthering Heights. In other words, I have tried to connect form with ideology and to exhibit the wide range of ideological messages that result from different intertextual confrontations. In general, I have tried to let intertextual influence speak for itself, through the texts, rather than impose a critical theory on the novel. As Margaret Anne Doody reminds us, “[i]‌n every novel there are threads pulling this was, pulling that way, connecting, tying in, and running back” (300).

Wuthering Heights stands, in my reading, as an emblem of the porosity of the blurry category “novel.” Brontë’s novel—like the novel itself—arouse out of ←2 | 3→a series of “dialectical engagements” (McKeon xix) with other texts and these dialectical engagements bring into the open the ideological structure behind the text. In my readings of Brontë’s novel, I have shown that Wuthering Heights is a sediment-rich text which contains many layers of heterogeneous strata: Pamela, “Der Findling,” The Monk, The Bride of Lammermoor, Manfred, Lamia, Shirley, Jane Eyre, Barry Lyndon, Oliver Twist, Nicholas Nickleby … In this book, I have tried to do what most critics have never (consciously) attempted: to postulate a determinate intertextual meaning for Wuthering Heights by placing it in dialogic relationship with previous novels, novellas and poems in order to confirm that Emily Brontë’s novel is not so sui generis, certainly not a sport. So my aim is to demonstrate how the meaning of Wuthering Heights is built up in intertextual participation, influence and struggle.

My methodology consists in making an intertextual confrontation between Wuthering Heights and other pre-Victorian, Victorian and Romantic texts. Therefore, in each chapter, I have put Wuthering Heights in dialogue with a chosen intertext. I would like to emphasize that I have chosen texts which either hold an important place in the often neglected pre-history of Victorian fiction: Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), Matthew Lewis’s The Monk (1796), Lord Byron’s poem, Manfred (1817)—or put forward an embryonic and tentative version of the novel in the early Victorian field: Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (1847) and Shirley (1849), William Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon (1844), Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1839), Nicholas Nickleby (1839), David Copperfield (1850), and Great Expectations (1861). These texts are not randomly chosen. They were powerful inscriptions within the literary field that started to consolidate in the first half of the nineteenth century after the crumbling of a more normatively determined Neoclassical literary field. Let me point out that, although two of these novels (David Copperfield and Great Expectations) were published after Wuthering Heights and, therefore, could have zero influence on that novel, they were strong inscriptions in the literary field, determining both its contemporary layout and the future—eventually Victorian—lines of its configuration. Besides, in hindsight, these contemporary and posterior texts afford valuable insights into Wuthering Heights since they all came out of what is, in a relevant sense, the same intellectual milieu. Apart from these intertexts, I have also compared Wuthering Heights with some of Heinrich von Kleist’s Novellen, especially “Der Findling,” [“The Foundling”]. I think that the uncanny intertextual similarities that they share and the fact that two of Kleist’s Novellen had been translated into English in Brontë’s time justify this inclusion.

←3 | 4→The organization of the chapters is essentially chronological; the book starts with Richardson, one of the forerunners of the domestic novel, and finishes with Charles Dickens, who brought it to “sentimental” perfection. However, the momentum of the argument is generated by intertextual confrontations which bring to the fore ideological agendas that have not been sufficiently highlighted by critics. Furthermore, I would like to stress that the novelty of my project lies in the fact that there has never been such an explicit, systematic and comprehensive attempt to place Wuthering Heights within a literary, chiefly narrative, tradition. What justifies my return to Samuel Richardson, Matthew Lewis, Heinrich von Kleist, Byron, Charlotte Brontë, William Thackeray and Charles Dickens here is the fact that all literature is a patchwork of themes which are already present in the “origins” which in turn are not original themselves. I am affirming the inevitability and rightfulness of the historical process by which a novel that has always been considered an anomaly in the history of English literature is asserting its position in the literary tradition.

How This Book Engages Scholarly Debates

I think it is important to explain how this book engages scholarly debates about interpretation and post-critique in order to account for my formal and intertextual reading of Wuthering Heights. As Roland Barthes writes, “all criticism must include in its discourse an implicit reflection on itself” since every criticism “is a criticism of the work and a criticism of itself” (Barthes, “What is Criticism?” 256). A range of critics in recent years have contested the all-pervading tendency to historicize Victorian literature and have urged a new attention to form and formalism. What emerges is a new formalism that reacts against the influential model of symptomatic reading—championed by post-structuralist critics, especially of a psychoanalytic and Marxist persuasion—which saw the critic as a detective whose main task is to unmask repressed meanings, a reading practice where “one remains blind to the text and concentrates on the murky and illusory depths of the work” (Strier 210).

New formalism has redefined the concept of form, which is much broader than in its traditional usage in literary theory since it is not necessarily associated to linguistic tropes. Thus, for Caroline Levine, form means “all shapes and configurations, all ordering principles, all patterns of repetition and difference” (3) and narrative is “the form that best captures the experience of colliding forms” (19). Levine contests the idea that aesthetic form is an effect of the political implications ←4 | 5→that it mimics, subverts or tries to resolve. She chooses a nineteenth-century classic like Jane Eyre to prove that a novel cannot be read as a formal treatment of some pre-existing social reality, such as imperialism or class conflicts, but as a site where different forms—or hierarchies—“can overlap and clash to surprisingly productive and emancipatory effect, producing political opportunities as well as tragic endings” (107). For this scholar, forms are hierarchical and they take the shape of simple binaries: higher/lower, male/female, centre/periphery, First World/Third World. For Levine, social hierarchies and institutions can themselves be understood as forms. The result is a cultural-political arena in which literary forms and social institutions operate on a common plane (Levine, “Strategic Formalism” 626). Though apparently consonant with deconstructive practice—Levine’s formalism dismisses the specificity and singularity of linguistic and literary forms, and it downplays, or simply disregards, the pervasiveness of intertextual determinism: does not Rochester’s brooding voice owes something to Manfred? Are not Rochester’s dubious schemes to gain Jane Eyre like those of Mr. B? Is not Jane Eyre an updated Pamela who, like Richardson’s heroine, climbs the social ladder? Is this playfield of literary intertextual cross-fertilization to be dismissed or made commensurate to other putative fields of non-linguistic and non-literary formal influence?

Rita Felski has also contributed to the debate on the endless crisis of criticism. Like Caroline Levine, Felski highlights the exhaustion of what she calls, following Paul Ricoeur, “the hermeneutics of suspicion.” What suspicion means as an interpretative approach is that the literary text hides some repressed meaning and that the critic’s task is to excavate, interrogate and dissect the surface of the text in search of nonobvious or latent meanings. This approach encourages the critic to distrust the text since interpretation depends on the assumption that all texts are always hiding something. Suspicious reading implies then “guardedness rather than openness, aggression rather than submission, irony rather than reverence, exposure rather than tact” (21). Instead of approaching the text with a shield, Felski sketches out an alternative model of what she calls “postcritical reading.” She encourages critics to become more receptive to “the multifarious and many-shaded moods of texts” (12), that is, to allow ourselves “to be marked, struck, impressed by what we read” (12). According to Felski, this moment of submission to a text allows us “to try out other selves, explore fictional models, slip free, for an instant, of well-worn habits of thought” (177). Felski’s approach is clearly influenced by Susan Sontag’s proposal in “Against Interpretation” (1966) which also favours the reader’s affective response or “affective engagement” to the text (Felski 177), opting for the experience of reading literature in its “pure, untranslatable, sensuous immediacy” (Sontag 14), what Sontag called an “erotics of art” (14).

←5 | 6→Felski’s immediate approach to the text—although innovative and provocative—seems to neglect one of the most influential maxims of poststructuralism: the belief in the non-referential nature of linguistic signs. As Barthes has argued, all texts produce their meaning out of their relation to literary and cultural systems, rather than out of any direct representation of the physical world. Thus, the literary text does not contain meaning; it is a site in which a number of relations merge and combine (Allen 12). Therefore, if the sign is never pure or fully meaningful and if the function of signs is not to reflect inward experiences or objects in the real world, the words in a literary text can never “reach, reorient, and even reconfigure their readers” (Felski 177). It is the reader, moving outward from the literary text into the relations it possesses with other literary or cultural works, who can find or construct meaning. If words can only be explained through other words, a literary text can only generate meaning through its mediation with other texts. “Texts engender texts,” De Man says, “as a result of their necessarily aberrant semantic structure; hence the fact that they consist of a series of repetitive reversals …” (162).

Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus have also taken part in the ongoing dispute about the limits of critique. In their article, “Surface Reading: An Introduction,” Best and Marcus offer a sceptical appraisal of symptomatic reading and advocate for a fresh attention to the surfaces of texts. They oppose “surface reading” to symptomatic reading and define surface as that what is “evident, perceptible, apprehensible in texts; what is neither hidden nor hiding; what, in the geometrical sense, has length and breadth but no thickness, and therefore covers no depth” (9). A surface, they argue, is what can be looked at rather than what we must learn to see through (9). Best and Marcus want to reclaim “the accent on immersion in texts” without becoming suspicious or paranoid about their latent ideologies. They believe that a willing submission to the text prevents its politicization and constitutes “the best way to say anything accurate and true about them” (16). Therefore, whereas a symptomatic reading tries to plumb hidden depths in the text, a surface reading strives to produce a truthful account of surfaces (18). Surface reading, they contend, is the best way to overcome the impasses created by “an excessive emphasis on ideological demystification” (18). This defence of surface reading amounts, in my opinion, to an attempt to revitalize the illusion of aesthetic-referential immediacy, the bête noir of deconstructionist critics like Paul de Man.

In her book, Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England (2007), Sharon Marcus chooses “just reading,” a variant of surface reading, to account “for what is in the text without construing presence as absence ←6 | 7→or affirmation as negation” (75). Marcus criticizes how symptomatic readings of Victorian novels assume that female friendship has been repressed by marriage plots and can only be recuperated through symptomatic reading, which tries to plumb hidden depths (3); she regrets how symptomatic readings have paradoxically rendered female friendship invisible. Conversely, just reading shows how female friendships are crucial on novels with marriage plots, serving as “a transmission mechanism that kept narrative energies on track” (3). Like Rita Felski, Best and Marcus also opt for an immediate approach to the literary text, neglecting the fact that the surface of texts lacks independent meaning and that meaning emerges from the relation between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a web of intertexts (Allen 1).

To recapitulate, what these critics have in common is a strong opposition to symptomatic reading and an enthusiastic defence of surface reading, which tends to encourage an immediate approach to the literary text. Thus, Caroline Levine’s new formalism prioritizes social and institutional formations over linguistic, textual and narrative forms. Hence, her approach dismisses the specificity and singularity of linguistic and literary forms while it downplays the intertextual relations that mediate and over-determine a literary work. Rita Felski’s, Stephen Best’s and Sharon Marcus’s approaches run to a certain degree along parallel tracks; they attempt to revitalize the illusion of aesthetic-referential immediacy, favouring the reader’s affective response to the text and overlooking the fact that the surface of texts lacks independent meaning. These critics advocate for an affective reading of literary texts which omits the influence of textual mediation and denies the importance and efficacy of symptomatic reading; they undermine the textual determination of the context of ideology. My reading of Wuthering Heights, however, is not guided by this naïve concept of textual sympathy. In contrast, I argue that textual determination is essential for digging down the ideology of the text.

“There is no such thing as an innocent reading.” Thus, I must say “what reading [I am] guilty of” (Althusser and Balibar 16). Since I have tried to keep theory as much as possible in the background, I will say a few words here about this book’s theoretical underpinnings. This book takes up the call of the V21 contributors and detaches itself from the current productive vogue for sociological approaches to narrative texts which has tended towards the “fetishization of the archival” (“Manifesto of the V21 Collective”) and has contributed to obscure the focus on anomalous intertextual relations that characterized the work of deconstructive hermeneutics. Like the V21 contributors, I do think that we “must ←7 | 8→seek new justifications for our work” and that we need to reconsider “how forms persist across artificially designated historical periods, while recentering formal analysis as the province of literary critical knowing” (“Manifesto of the V21 Collective”). The field of nineteenth-century English literature in general—and of the Brontës’ studies in particular—has moved in the direction of constant openness to historical and cultural contexts, without paying sufficient attention to the ways that meaning is conditioned and enabled by the possibilities of form. Certainly, all areas of literary study have tended towards cultural studies. In Richard Strier’s words, “formalism has become a dirty word, but we can’t do without it.”1

I take my cue in part from Fredric Jameson and I propose a symptomatic and intertextual reading of Wuthering Heights; a reading which seeks to track and disclose “du texte” in Emily Brontë, “to expose layers and traces of textuality” (Jameson, The Ideologies 27). This formalist and intertextual critical position has been, however, reviled by new-formalists since it detaches itself from all the readings that come under the rubric of “surface reading.” Thus, my reading of Emily Brontë’s novel does not fall prey to gullible notions like immediate meaning or the reader’s “affective engagement” to the literary text; it prioritizes linguistic, textual and narrative forms over any other social or institutional formation and it brings to the fore the ideological fabric that lies behind the surface, making up the novel’s intertextual core. In correlating form with ideology, I endorse Jameson’s view that formal processes carry “ideological messages of their own, distinct from the ostensible or manifest content of the works” (Jameson, The Political 84).

I think it necessary to highlight that I use the term intertextuality in a non-restrictive understanding of the concept, one which envisages the textual as essentially contributing to the framing of the author’s unconscious and ideology, let alone the literary text’s unconscious and ideology. This is to say that the ideological unconscious of an author is already a site of intertextuality and that the literary work is a product of this ideological unconscious (Lucien Goldmann), even as this work develops an ideological unconscious of its own (Pierre Macherey). The text would necessarily betray the original intertextual consistency.

Of all possible over-determining forces shaping the production of Wuthering Heights, I think that the most pressing is the literary context. This is, I am aware, a controversially unfashionable assumption. I have thus prioritized the literary context over any other biographical, historical or cultural context, putting Wuthering Heights in direct communication with other literary texts that I consider ideologically determinant. My emphasis on the determined and determinate nature of narrative meaning encourages attention to mediation and seeks to avoid the lure of immediacy which has been vastly enhanced by the stigma of ←8 | 9→exceptionality that accompanies the novel. Thus, my symptomatic reading of Wuthering Heights departs from current critical tendencies—postcritical reading, just reading and all the different subtypes of surface reading—which seem to forget that the object of criticism is not “the world” but a discourse and that “criticism is discourse upon discourse” (Barthes, “What is Criticism?” 258). Thus, in the present book, I have confronted the different literary intertexts that mediate, determine and over-determine Emily Brontë’s text, turning it less into a thing immediately to be read through than into an object mediately to be read into and across. I embark on a running detour, a set of trips back and forth to Wuthering Heights. I reach the text through its confirming intertexts.

My symptomatic and post-structuralist reading of Wuthering Heights depends much on dialectical critique, which has been recently revitalized by critics such as Jameson, Zizek and Ruda. I think that the dialectical method, which revitalizes the workings of conceptual negativity, is alone capable of dealing with notions of ideology, false consciousness, repression and connotation itself (Jameson, The Ideologies 27). In Hegelian dialectic, the notion of totality “is not an ideal of an organic Whole but a critical notion” (Zizek et al. 44); it is “the Whole plus its symptoms, unintended consequences that betray its untruth” (44). A dialectical method can therefore best disclose the historical moment when the generic coalescence of the English novel as a textual practice and a generic configuration can be seen both in its indivisibility from other parts and in its embryonic coherence as a whole in itself (McKeon xx). Hence, I conceive Wuthering Heights “as a whole whose parts have lost their former continuity as components of other things or as other wholes in themselves” (McKeon xx). These “other things” and “other wholes” I take to be, quite simply, other novels, whose strong inscribing force in the generic continuum of narrative occurrences lends them a singular power to determine subsequent occurrences. I make a dialectical effort and try to account for the novel’s symptoms, antagonisms and inconsistencies in order to obtain a sound picture of its primary “ideology effect” (Althusser 191). The main object of study here would be what the Russian Formalists called “motivation,” that is to say, “what has to be pressed into service to make a given detail pass unquestioned by the reader, or, to use what will presently become an ideologically charged term, to make it seem ‘natural’ to him” (Jameson, The Ideologies 32).

My reading of Wuthering Heights demonstrates that there is indeed “a positivity with dialectical intensity” (Jameson, Valences 39) and that the “elaborate overtracings” that we find in the novel “are not to be dismissed as archival aestheticism or mere literary allusion” (Jameson, Valences 39) but bring to the fore the diffuse, disseminated and conflictual copresence of the different ideological ←9 | 10→trends making up the novel’s intertextual core. All the different literary texts that I have chosen as intertexts are indeed superimposed in the novel “by a constant process of doubling and surcharge” (Jameson, Valences 40) in which the hero of Nicholas Nickleby, for example, is also, at the same time, the villain of Wuthering Heights, and Heathcliff is called upon to assume both roles simultaneously.

Thus, my methodology consists in putting forward an intertextual confrontation between Wuthering Heights and other pre-Victorian, Victorian and Romantic texts in order to track and uncover the novel’s “constitutive antagonism” (Zizek et al. 46). The result of this intertextual comparison shows how Wuthering Heights reflects, subverts and creates ideology at a basically (infrastructurally) narrative level. This volume addresses a gap in existing scholarship about Wuthering Heights—and about Victorian literature in general—by arguing that the literary context provides the initial context for understanding Brontë’s novel. In his thorough and illuminating description of structuralism, Eagleton defines literature as “an enclosed ecological recycling of texts” (92) and I think that the same can be said of Wuthering Heights. Although nineteenth-century scholars are dismissive of conceptions of literary invention based on tradition, influence, imitation and intertextuality, there is a number of important critics who have been strong advocates of intertextuality and who have used intertextual methodologies to move the field forward based on that methodology.

In his edifying and comprehensive book, Intertextuality (2006), Graham Allen traces a coherent history of the term and explains how it is used in various theoretical contexts, from its genesis in Kristeva’s adaptation of Saussaure’s and Bakhtin’s theories, through Barthes’ post-structuralist articulation and Genette’s and Riffaterre’s structuralist articulation, on to feminist and postcolonial variations of the term, and finally to its adaptation to the non-literary arts and the current technological era (Allen 6). In Allen’s own words, the act of reading “plunges us into a network of textual relations” (Allen 1). Thus, in order to interpret a literary text, and to discover its meaning, one should trace its relation with other texts: “Meaning becomes something which exists between a text and all the other texts to which it refers and relates, moving out from the independent text into a network of textual relations. The text becomes the intertext” (Allen 1).

Literary theory—and the notion of intertextuality—originates from the birth of modern linguistics, which itself emerged in the work of Ferdinand de Saussure. For Saussure, the linguistic sign has not an inherent meaning of its own: “Sign exists within a system and produce meaning through their similarity to and difference from other signs” (Allen 10). The linguistic sign then is a non-unitary, non-stable, relational unit which establishes relationships of similarity ←10 | 11→and difference with other linguistic signs, constituting the synchronic system of language. The same happens with the literary signs. If the literary tradition is itself a synchronic system, the literary author works with at least two systems, those of language in general and those of the literary system in particular:

Such a point reinforces Saussure’s stress on the non-referential nature of signs, since in reading literature we become intensely aware that the signs deployed in any particular text have their reference not to objects in the world but to the literary system out of which the text is produced. (Allen 11)

Therefore, the literary work is no longer perceived as a provider of meaning but as a space in which a number of relations merge (Allen 12).

In his influential work of literary criticism, Anatomy of Criticism (1957), Northrop Frye put into practice a structuralist reading of literary texts and presented an idea of literature as “containing life and reality in a system of verbal relationships” (122) that still retains much value. By that same logic, the critic can no longer conceive literature “as a tiny palace of art looking out upon an inconceivably gigantic ‘life’ ” (122). “Life” has become “the seed-plot of literature, a vast mass of potential literary forms, only a few of which will grow up into the greater world of the literary universe” (122). Hence, for Frye, literary texts do not produce meaning out of a direct representation of the external world. Rather, meaning can only be generated through the intertextual mediation of different texts.

The term intertextuality was coined by Julia Kristeva in her work of the late 1960s, in which Kristeva combined Saussurean and Bakhtinian theories of language and literature to produce the first articulation of intertextual theory. In Bakhtin’s vision of language, the word only becomes one’s own through an act of “appropriation,” which implies that the word is never one’s own since it is “always permeated with traces of other words, other uses” (Allen 28). Bakthin expresses this idea through the concept of heteroglossia—which stands behind Kristeva’s concept of intertextuality—and which can be defined as “language ability to contain within it many voices, one’s own and other voices” (Allen 29).

According to Kristeva, literary authors do not produce a text from scratch, but rather compile it from previous texts, a text is then “a permutation of texts, an intertextuality in the space of a given text,” in which “several utterances, taken from other texts, intersect and neutralize one another” (Kristeva 36). What characterizes Kristeva’s view of intertextuality is her view of the literary text as a combination of several textual surfaces, that is, as a dialogue between several ←11 | 12→writings: that of the writer, the addressee, and the contemporary or earlier cultural context (Kristeva 65). Kristeva’s version of intertextuality stands in relation to Hegelian dialectics since it subverts reason and defies the belief in categorical meaning, and therefore disrupts all ideas of the rational and the undisputable (Allen 45–46).

In a history of intertextuality, Kristeva’s French colleague, Roland Barthes, remains crucial in developing the theory. What Barthes means by the term “text,” and thus “intertextuality” is perfectly summarized in his famous essay, “The Death of the Author” (1968):

[A text is] woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find the “sources,” the “influences” of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas. (160)

In this essay, Barthes extensively developed intertextual theory, challenging the figure of the author as an unquestionable or natural authority. As he puts it: “The explanation of a work is always sought in the man or woman who produced it, as if it were always in the end, through the more or less transparent allegory of the fiction, the voice of a single person, the author ‘confiding’ in us” (“The Death of the Author” 143). The origin of a literary text is not the consciousness of an author but a plurality of voices, words, utterances and texts. Thus, if we were able to look inside the head of an author, we would not discover intended meaning, but what he calls the “alreadyread” or the “already-written” (qtd. in Allen 73). Barthes styles the mother author as a “modern scriptor” who does not produce unified meaning but compiles the already written and read into “a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash” (Barthes, “The Death of the Author” 146). The text becomes “a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” (Barthes, “The Death of the Author” 146). Intertextuality for Bathes—as for Derrida—means that “nothing exists outside the text” (Barthes, S/Z 6). In other words, to trace the meaning of a text, therefore, we must put it in relation to other texts. Meaning thus originates from language viewed intertextually (Allen 74). Thus, immediate approaches which advocate for the reader’s affective response to the text become irrelevant and questionable.

←12 | 13→Yet, there are critics—like Gérard Genette and Michelle Riffaterre—who have returned the concept of intertextuality to Saussurean structuralism. For Genette, both author and critic are characterized as bricoleurs, but there is a significant difference between them. Whereas the author takes elements of the enclosed literary system and assembles them into the work, confusing the work’s relation to the system, the critic returns the work to the system, illuminating the relation between the work and the system which had been previously concealed by the author (Allen 96). Riffaterre, on his part, refers to what he calls the “referential fallacy” and asserts that “the text refers not to objects outside of itself, but to an inter-text. The words of the text signify not by referring to things, but by presupposing other texts” (228). Textual analysis, for Riffaterre, attempts to explain the text’s uniqueness (Allen 115). Both Genette and Riffaterre try to overcome the post-structuralist dictum that criticism cannot reorganize the text’s elements into their full meaningful relations. In contrast, they retain “a belief in criticism’s ability to locate, describe and thus stabilize a text’s significance, even if that significance concerns an intertextual relation between a text and other texts” (Allen 97). Both Genette and Riffaterre see the text as a closed entity with definite meanings which is the critic’s task to decode.

The work of Harold Bloom puts forward a new version of intertextuality which is deeply related to the notion of influence, the traditional term that Kristeva and Barthes strongly oppose. Bloom’s vision of poetry is deeply intertextual since he argues that poets can only imitate previous poets: “The meaning of a poem can only be a poem, but another poema poem not itself. And not a poem chosen with total arbitrariness, but any central poem by an indisputable precursor, even if the ephebe never read that poem” (Bloom, The Anxiety 70). For this critic, poets write poetry by misreading and misinterpreting the poems of their precursors. However, these new poets must renovate and reinterpret those tropes in new ways in order to create the illusion that their poetry is truly original (Allen 135). Thus, criticism, for Bloom, “is the art of knowing the hidden roads that go from poem to poem” (The Anxiety 96).

If we accept Bloom’s thesis that the meaning of a poem is another poem, we should ask ourselves whether the meaning of a novel is also another novel. Bloom would probably agree to this, as his insightful reading of prose fiction in Novelists and Novels (2004) demonstrates. By asserting that “the novel began as the ungrateful child of prose romance” (xvii), Bloom foregrounds the inherently intertextual nature of novels. Thus, he provides a rich intertextual network of novels in which Richardson had Shakespeare as precursor and Jane Austen “truly is the daughter of Richardson” (52) just as she is the forerunner of George Eliot ←13 | 14→and Henry James; Wuthering Heights is a “triumphant revision” (132) of Byron’s Manfred and Manfred is a descendant of Milton’s Satan.

Likewise, in Origins of the English Novel (1987), Michael McKeon conceives the origins of the novel not in a matrix text, whether it is Robison Crusoe, Pamela or Shamela, “but as an abstract field of narrative possibility shaped by the dialectical engagement of its component ‘parts’ ” (xix)—that is, by a variety of texts with diverse commitments but which were however engaged in a common enterprise (xix). Margaret Anne Doody’s groundbreaking The True Story of the Novel (1996) also displays an intertextual origin of the Western novel. In this book, Doody re-evaluates the origins of the novel and demonstrates how the Western novel is the product of European, African and Western Asian influences. In Doody’s own words: “Any novel has a greater range of literary relationships than those indicated by its overt quotations or allusions. What any novel always has to draw on is the Novel itself, that great bizarre medley of the African, the Asian, and the European” (300).

Linda Hutcheon has contributed enormously to the relationship between Postmodernism and intertextual theory and practice. According to Hutcheon, Postmodern literature is characterized by a double-codedness, which “questions the available modes of representation in culture whilst recognizing that it must still employ those modes” (Allen 188). Postmodernism then “works within the very systems it attempts to subvert” (Hutcheon 4). Hutcheon’s theory of “parody” is especially consonant with intertextual theory. For her, parody “is a perfect postmodern form, […], for it paradoxically both incorporates and challenges that which it parodies. It also forces a reconsideration of the idea of origin or originality that is compatible with other postmodern interrogations of liberal humanist assumptions” (Hutcheon 11).

The final piece of the puzzle was provided by Fredric Jameson’s Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991). For Jameson, in a moment when there appears to be no cultural norms to subvert, parody of hegemonic norms is no longer feasible and gives way to what he calls pastiche:

For Jameson, in the culture of late capitalism, the way we speak and the art we create and consume is characterized by a subversion of images and styles which has no attachment to recognizable cultural norm or social class. Intertextual practice is then devoid of a radical doublevoicedness and “it collapses into a kind of pointless resurrection of past styles and past voices” (Allen 184).

Intertextual theory and practice, however, have not found many advocates among nineteenth-century scholars, who have not considered intertextuality as powerfully explanatory as other types of methodologies. If I had to venture a reason for this scepticism, it would be that the term has been commonly associated with uncertainty, unstable meanings, disarray and radical pluralism, all characteristics of poststructuralism. By the same logic, it remains a challenging tool for those critics who wish to find stability, order and notions of unquestionable authority and singularity.

Therefore, structuralist and post-structuralist theories view the literary text as a combination of different textual surfaces, that is, as a dialogue between several texts, while they reject the idea that literary texts produce meaning out of a direct representation of the external world. Rather, a literary text can only generate meaning through its mediation with other texts. The origin of the Novel itself, which arouse out of the intersection and coalescence with other texts, demonstrates how literary texts are in fact inherently intertextual. Sociological, affective and surface approaches to the literary text, on the other hand, fall prey to the aesthetic-referential fallacy, which tends to flatten and instrumentalize the literary text by neglecting the intertextual mediations that lurk around it.

Although I do not employ intertextual theories throughout this book, I want to pay homage here to that period in modern literary and cultural theory in which critics defended the radical plurality of the sign and the relation between a text and a literary system. Therefore, in this book, I engage with those critics of a Marxist and deconstructionist persuasion—Franco Moretti, Fredric Jameson, Michael McKeon, Terry Eagleton, Peter Brooks, J. Hillis Miller and Jacques Derrida—who advocate for intertextuality, ambiguity and undecidability. I uphold the idea that we can read Wuthering Heights through its intertexts in a systematic and informed manner.

In The Pleasure of Reading, Roland Barthes proposed an interesting metaphor to explain the inherently intertextual nature of texts. For this critic, the text is like a woven fabric, a tissue. But instead of a ready-made veil which ←15 | 16→conceals meaning, he conceives the text—the tissue—as being made “in a perpetual interweaving” (Barthes, The Pleasure 64). Lost in this maze of tissue—or texture—the subject unravels himself, “like a spider dissolving in the constructive secretions of its web” (64). Barthes culminates this wonderful metaphor by proposing the term hyphology to define the theory of the text. Hyphos would be the tissue and the spider’s web (64). I think that Barthes’s metaphor helps to illuminate my aim in this book: to unravel the threads of Wuthering Heights in order to plumb the intertexts and subtexts that are interwoven in the web of the novel and that unveil its latent ideology. According to Miller, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when paper was scarce, letters were “crossed,” that is, “written both ways on the paper, one script superimposed at right angles to the other” (6). In this book, I have tried to trace the primitive text of the palimpsest—the “anagrams” or “hypograms” of Saussure’s theory—the words which refer to another palpitating text which underlies the original one (Starobinski 99). It is precisely this (inter)textual confrontation that unravels the literary text’s unconscious and ideology.

After this detour through the history of intertextuality, I want to summarize the formal-ideological nexus that articulates each particular intertext and that allegedly partly articulates the meaning of Wuthering Heights too. In Chapter 2, for example, I put Wuthering Heights into dialogue with Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded (1740), an intertext which also has a housekeeper as the narrator of the novel. The story is narrated by a loquacious woman who belongs to the lower middle class, a housekeeper. Working for the yeoman-farming structure of the Heights and—subsequently—for the landed gentry of Thrushcross Grange, Nelly Dean retains an uncertain status within both households. Having acquired literacy, Nelly both imitates and re-appropriates the culture of the middle-class (Fernandez 54). She is at the same time authoritative and subordinate, outsider and insider, nurturer and tyrant, exemplifying the fluctuating boundaries of class within the Victorian household (Fernandez 56). In selecting this female subaltern speech as narrator, Brontë is performing a social subversion which shapes the sociological ethics of the novel, advocating thus for the social emancipation of the lower middle class. Nelly Dean’s uncertain social status is of crucial significance in a world increasingly preoccupied by the instability and reversibility of social identities (Fernandez 57).

Chapter 3 then argues that Wuthering Heights shares some formal and thematic motifs with Kleist’s Novellen. In both narratives, the action is triggered by a benefactor figure—a donor in Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale—who finds an orphan during a business journey. Both Nicolo and Heathcliff are ←16 | 17→depicted as having a dark physiognomy and a hostile and uncommunicative attitude. Besides, both children are forcibly domesticated in the family. There is also a significant anagnorisis with alters the course of the action in both narratives. In Wuthering Heights, the moment of anagnorisis takes place when Heathcliff overhears Catherine and Nelly’s conversation and is heartbroken at Catherine’s words that “it would degrade me to marry Heathcliff” (80). In “The Foundling,” anagnorisis occurs when Nicolo discovers Elvira’s frustrated love for Colino. Apart from this, the moment of peripeteia—or reversal of fortune—in both narratives takes places when both heroes rise up socially and take revenge on their persecutors through a subversive usurpation of the normative and legal system. Besides, both stories share a typically Rousseauian theme: a hostility toward an urban civilization which thwarts the characters’ more genuine feelings and their strong intimacy with nature. Therefore, nature is frequently the safest place where the lovers can spontaneously relish their love, as it is the case in “The Earthquake in Chile” and in Wuthering Heights.

This intertextual confrontation brings to the fore two Romantic ideological messages. The first one is emblematized in the Rousseauian dictum that “everything issuing from nature is true” (Rousseau 25). This is particularly exemplified in the characters of Heathcliff and Nicolo—the hero of Kleist’s “The Foundling”—since both of them symbolize a natural and asocial force which irrupts into a family system and ends up causing disarray. The second ideological message is that the origin of society and of laws destroyed natural freedom irreversibly, set down the law of property and inequality and ironically legitimated usurpation (Rousseau 69). A nameless dark-skinned orphan diminished by law, Heathcliff will take revenge on his oppressors by the use and abuse of law (Ward 56). Hence, through his assimilation and appropriation of the law, Heathcliff proves its very failure.

In Chapter 4, I argue that there are numerous formal and thematic motifs that connect Wuthering Heights with Matthew Lewis’s The Monk: the proliferation of narrative frames and the compulsive repetition of stories and characters—which disclose the self-conscious narrative of both novels—and the various themes of revenge, subrogation, violence, incarceration, the supernatural and insanity, which pervade the domestic spaces of Wuthering Heights. This orchestration of proto-melodramatic motifs subverted the realist novel as well as the social order. This has an ideological implication: the legitimacy of the aristocracy and gentility’s political and economic power was threatened by an increasingly changing society marked by the emergent economic importance of the bourgeoisie. Heathcliff represents then a violent and subversive force—the bourgeoisie—which disrupts ←17 | 18→both the social and the domestic order and exposes the fears and anxieties of the nobility about the nature of their ascendancy, inheritance and the transmission of property.

Chapter 5 will analyze the formal-ideological nexus that brings together Byron’s Manfred and Wuthering Heights. The intertextual comparison between both texts shows that the deep structure of Wuthering Heights is an epic drama whose protagonist is a Satanic and Byronic character which, at the same time, goes back to Milton’s Satan. Besides, the novel contains a poetic quality and a constellation of tropes which can be traced back to the Romantic tradition. These formal features betray an ideological meaning: Both Manfred and Heathcliff are damned heroes representing an asocial and anomic force which disturbs the domestic order and the social system at the same time.

In Chapter 6, the intertextual confrontation between Wuthering Heights and Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Jane Eyre, and William Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon discloses the different voices—heteroglossia—that clash in Emily Brontë’s novel and puts forward a materialist reading of Emily Brontë’s novel. Heathcliff’s voice in the novel is thoroughly heteroglot, double-voiced, in that it integrates four different suppressed voices that clash in the novel: a social voice, a colonial voice, a professional voice and, indirectly, a woman’s voice. Thus, his passage from rural bourgeois to capitalist landlord, his condition of outsider with ambiguous origin, and his potential underplot as soldier grant Heathcliff the capacity to integrate at least three different types of infrastructural alterity in the novel: the proletarian, the colonial subject, and the soldier brutalized by war.

In Chapter 7, I argue that Heathcliff’s condition of outcast, his passage from “innocence” to “experience,” his conversion into an upstart, and his self-determination turn his “history” into an embryonic Bildungsroman. Thus, we have the reverse of a formation novel in which some parts of Heathcliff’s history are lost. This formal motif exposes an important ideological meaning of the novel: Heathcliff’s assimilation of the social system proves its very contradictions, betraying the unavailability and failure of this very system. All the ideological motifs that I have analyzed in the previous chapters remain latent in the present chapter; all of them betray an ideological force that somehow challenges the normative system.

All these motifs constitute, paradoxically, what the novel is not. The novel is a dreamwork of ideological conflicts. It subverts the domestic and social order with Romantic elements that disrupt the normative system. To put this simply, the intertextual comparisons at work in this book allows us to detect the different ideological directions that break into the text, determining its meaning.

←18 | 19→


1 See Richard Strier’s chapter, “How Formalism became a Dirty Word, and Why We Can’t Do Without It” in the book, Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements (2002).


Althusser, Louis. On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses. Translated by G. M. Goshgarian. London: Verso, 2014.

Althusser, Louis, and Etienne Balibar. Reading Capital. Translated by Ben Brewster and David Fernbach. London: Verso, 2015.

Allen, Graham. Intertextuality. 2000. London: Routledge, 2006.

Barthes, Roland. S/Z. Translated by Richard Howard. New York: Hill and Wang, 1974.

———. “The Death of the Author.” In Image – Music – Text. Translated by Stephen Heath. London: Fontana, 1977, 142–148.

———. The Pleasure of the Text. 1975. Translated by Richard Miller. New York: Hill and Wang, 1998.

———. “What Is Criticism?” In Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000a, 255–260.

———. “The Structuralist Activity.” In Critical Essays. Translated by Richard Howard. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2000b, 213–220.

Best, Stephen, and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations 108, no. 1 (2009): 1–21.

Bloom, Harold. The Anxiety of Influence: A Theory of Poetry. 1973. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997.

———. Novelists and Novels. 2004. New York: Checkmark Books, 2007.

De Man, Paul. Allegories of Reading. Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1979.

Doody, Margaret Anne. The True Story of the Novel. 1996. New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 1997.

Eagleton, Terry. Literary Theory: An Introduction. 1983. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2011.

Eco, Umberto. The Name of the Rose. Translated by William Weaver. London: Vintage, 1998.

Felski, Rita. The Limits of Critique. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 2015.

Fernandez, Jean. Victorian Servants, Class, and the Politics of Literacy. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism: Four Essays. 1957. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2020.

Hillis Miller, Joseph. Ariadne’s Thread: Story Lines. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1992.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Poetics of Postmodernism: History, Theory, Fiction. New York: Routledge, 1988.

Jameson, Fredric. Postmodernism, or, The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. 1989. London: Verso, 1991.

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———. The Political Unconscious: Narrative as Socially Symbolic Art. 1981. New York: Routledge, 2008a.

———. The Ideologies of Theory. 1988. London: Verso, 2008b.

———. Valences of the Dialectic. London: Verso, 2010.

Kristeva, Julia. Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art. 1969. Translated by Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon S. Roudiez, edited by Leon S. Roudiez. New York: Columbia University Press, 1980.

Leavis, Frank Raymond. The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad. 1948. New York: Faber and Faber, 2011.

Levine, Caroline. “Strategic Formalism: Toward a New Method in Cultural Studies.” Victorian Studies 48, no. 4 (2006): 625–657.

———. Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2017.

“Manifesto of the V21 Collective.” Victorian Studies for the 21st Century, www.owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/mla_works_cited_electronic_sources.html. Accessed August 1, 2020.

Marcus, Sharon. Between Women: Friendship, Desire, and Marriage in Victorian England. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009.

McKeon, Michael. The Origins of the English Novel. 1987. London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Riffaterre, Michele. “Interpretation and Undecidability.” New Literary 12, no. 2 (1980): 227–42.

Rousseau, Jean Jacques. Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. 1755. Translated by F. Philip. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Sontag, Susan. “Against Interpretation.” 1996. In Against Interpretation and Other Essays, 1–15. New York: Penguin Modern Classics, 2009.

Starobinski, Jean. Words Upon Words: The Anagrams of Ferdinand de Saussure. 1979. Translated by Olivia Emmet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1980.

Strier, Richard. “Afterword: How Formalism Became a Dirty Word, and Why We Can’t Do Without It.” In Renaissance Literature and Its Formal Engagements, edited by Mark Rasmussen, 207–216. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Ward, Ian. Law and the Brontës. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Zizek, Slavoj, et al. Reading Marx. London: Polity Press, 2018.

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  An Overview of Wuthering Heights’ Critical Reception: Problems and Omissions

“I don’t care—I will get in”

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights 7)

If the power of literature could be measured by the impression that it leaves on the reader, by the power and energy of its effect, Wuthering Heights would undoubtedly succeed as one of the most powerful and effective texts of all time, as the quantity and intensity of the echoes and critical literature that it has produced demonstrate. Few literary texts have incited so many interpretations, so many exegetic passions and controversies. My aim in this chapter is to offer an overview of the main critical analyses that Emily Brontë’s novel has received since its publication in 1847 and to outline the lacunae and deficiencies that these critical approaches still entail. This critical revision responds to the need to explicate a novel that has always been considered sui generis in the history of English literature.1 In my analysis, I anticipate some literary and narrative intertexts that I think will illuminate different parts of Wuthering Heights: Richardson’s Pamela, Kleist’s Novellen, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk, Byron’s Manfred, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Jane Eyre, William Thackeray’s Barry Lyndon and Charles Dickens’s Nicholas Nickleby and Oliver Twist among others. With this “legitimate prejudice” (Gadamer 278), I want to cast new light on aspects of the ←21 | 22→novel that have been disregarded by the critics as well as to dismiss the generic indetermination of the novel by suggesting that it functions as a European novel.2 In this chapter I want to see if critics have been able to identify a conjectural network of literary intertexts or, on the contrary, they have overlooked the literary dimension that overdetermines the novel. To this purpose, I will organize these critical revisions in two groups: (1) those critics who postulate the existence of a retrievable determinate meaning which can be either material/immanent (sociological determinism), or spiritual/transcendental (thematic determinism); and (2) those critics who postulate the existence of an indeterminate meaning (deconstruction).

First Reviews on Wuthering Heights: The First Deconstructionists of the Novel?

The publication of Wuthering Heights met with a scandalized tone from its first readers. I shall begin by compiling the first reactions that emerged after the publication of Wuthering Heights and that strongly contributed to the creation of the Brontë myth relegating the novel to the category of impenetrable mystery.3 These first critics of the novel would belong to the second group of critics, though, as opposed to deconstructionist critics, they degrade and undervalue the novel’s heterogeneity and its capacity to generate multiple meanings. Charlotte Brontë was one of the first critics of the novel. In her preface to the new edition of Wuthering Heights, she underscores its taxonomical indeterminacy by calling it “a rude and strange production” which has its source in her sister’s “nun-like” seclusion and in her somber imagination. Moreover, she asserted, “Having formed these beings, she did not know what she had done” (qtd. in Dunn 314). Responses were inevitable; the Examiner stated that, although it possesses “considerable power,” Wuthering Heights “is a strange book” whose characters are “savages ruder than those who lived before the days of Homer” (qtd. in Dunn 285).

The Britannia review of 1848, one of the most illuminating, said that the book is “strangely original” and that it bears a resemblance “to those irregular German tales in which the writers, giving the reins to their fancy, represent personages as swayed and impelled to evil by supernatural influences” (qtd. in Dunn 288). This is in fact one of the first attempts to overcome the hermeneutic ineffability around the novel and to contextualize it within a literary tradition, that of the German Novellen.4 The Douglas Jerrold’s Weekly Newspaper affirmed that Wuthering Heights “is a strange sort of book, baffling all regular criticism; yet it ←22 | 23→is impossible to begin and not to finish it, and quite as impossible to lay it aside afterwards and say nothing about it” (284). The critics strongly recommend “all our readers who love novelty to get this story, for we can promise them that they have never read anything like it before” (285).

The Atlas review says that the text “casts a gloom over the mind not easily to be dispelled” and that “[a]‌ more unnatural story we do not remember to have read” (qtd. in Dunn 283). It finishes saying that “[t]he work of Currer Bell is a great performance; that of Ellis Bell is only a promise, but it is a colossal one.”5 The violence of the text can be measured by the fervent and aggressive tone of the reaction of the New Monthly Magazine, which states that Wuthering Heights “is a terrific story, associated with an equally fearful and repulsive spot” (qtd. in Dunn 293). “Our novel reading experiences,” the critic says “does not enable us to refer to anything to be compared with the personages we are introduced to at this desolate spot—a perfect misanthropist’s heaven” (293).6 The Taint’s Edinburgh Magazine says that “[t]he volumes are powerfully written records of wickedness and they have a moral—they show what Satan could do with the law of Entail.”7 The Quarterly Review inadvertently hints at a possible literary intertext of Wuthering Heights by asserting that the novel, “[w]ith all the unscrupulousness of the French school of novels, combines that repulsive vulgarity in the choice of its vice which supplies its own antidote” (Allott 111, emphasis added). Although it is not the aim of the reviewer, this is another interesting attempt to contextualize the novel within the European literary tradition and, specifically, within French fiction; a contextualization which, to my mind, is quite accurate but which needs specification. I think it is not wrong to claim that the reviewer is referring to George Sand’s and Balzac’s novels; a claim which is supported by the fact that both Charlotte and Emily Brontë went to Brussels to improve their French.8

American reviews were not too long in coming either. Paterson’s Magazine advises to read Jane Eyre, “but burn Wuthering Heights.”9 The Graham’s Lady’s Magazine wonders how a writer could have written such a book without committing suicide before finishing it and asserts that “[i]‌t is a compound of vulgar depravity and unnatural horrors.” The Literary World states that Wuthering Heights “is a dark tale darkly told,” and that, despite its “disgusting coarseness … we cannot choose but read.” In the American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics, G.W. Peck asserts that “[t]he book is original; it is powerful; full of suggestiveness. But it is coarse …” The critic also argues that “[i]t lifts the veil and shows boldly the dark side of our depraved nature.” He repeats the famous assertion that “nothing like it has ever been written before” and finally he makes an unfortunate statement: “It will live a short and brilliant life, and then die and be ←23 | 24→forgotten.” Last but not least, E. Whipple, in the North American Review, makes a strong assertion by comparing Heathcliff with Goethe’s Mephistopheles and with the Satan of Milton, establishing then two credible precedents of the novel:

He [Heathcliff] is a deformed monster whom the Mephistopheles of Goethe would have nothing to say to, whom the Satan of Milton would consider as an object of simple disgust, and to whom Dante would hesitate in awarding the honour of a place among those whom he has consigned to the burning pitch. (The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights)

To sum up, the first critics highlight the strangeness and originality of the novel refusing to recognize its excellence and regarding it as morbid lowbrow fiction. The words “coarse,” “vulgar” and “repulsive” are the most repeated and the “depraved nature” of both the writer and the readers of the novel is frequently stressed. Although few have been the critics who have dared to suggest possible literary inspirations of the novel—and this was far from being their intention—we have seen here the first attempts to identify some of the textual filiations of Wuthering Heights. Thus the characters of Wuthering Heights have been compared to the characters of the German Novellen, to Goethe’s Mephistopheles and to Milton’s Satan whereas the themes of the novel have been related to the “vulgarity” of the French novels.

Determinate Meaning of Wuthering Heights: Material Determinism

In the second part of the twentieth century, critics have tried to overcome the critical lacuna that has always surrounded the novel and have paid attention to the role that history and economy play in Wuthering Heights. These critics would belong then to our first group of critics, since they powerfully argue that the meaning of the novel lies within the history in which it was produced and first published. David Wilson (1947), Arnold Kettle (1951), and Terry Eagleton (1975) focus on the historical oppositions between the two houses, Wuthering Heights, where the Earnshaws own the land which they work themselves, and Thrushcross Grange, where the genteel Lintons live off their rents. Wilson’s aim in his essay, “Emily Brontë: First of the Moderns,” is to set aside the mystic neverland of the moors and heath in which she has exclusively been situated and to picture her in the light of her relationship with the people of her time. Wilson sees Wuthering Heights as a metaphor of the social revolts of Brontë’s time, with all their violence ←24 | 25→and hatred: “These social storms were far too near for the sisters to have lived the quiet secluded lives that have been pictured. These events are at least as significant in their background, and as the springs of their emotions, as are the moor and the heath” (Wilson 96). The fact that it is narrated by the cultivated Lockwood and the practical Nelly Dean implies, not without irony, the compromise between this savagery and the mood of more stable times.

Heathcliff symbolizes on this account the working men of Brontë’s time, who, after enduring suffering and degradation at the hands of their “superiors,” turn to disobedience and revolt and to the violent movement for the People’s Charter. His decision to become an educated and wealthy man finds its parallel in the reaction of the landlords to the yeomen whenever they revolt against their oppressors: “dark, uncouth, and brutal, moved by a hateful will and guided by an intelligence that seems of the Devil” (111). Wilson relates this to what the Luddites, the Chartists, and the devotees of the “Sacred Month” did in the Brontë days. Although Emily Brontë does not mitigate Heathcliff’s cruelty, harshness, and hatred, the reader cannot help feeling some kind of sympathy: his repulsiveness is appealing. Not only does Emily Brontë depict Heathcliff as brutal, detestable, and merciless, she also shows how he became so. According to Wilson, Brontë must have seen the same process in the strikes and in the social disturbances of the summer of 1842 (97).

Although he makes a truly innovative contribution to the critical history of Wuthering Heights and his essay is one of the first attempts to contextualize the novel within the oppression of English history, Wilson disregards the literary debts that the novel incurs with previous texts. He makes a passing reference to Disraeli’s Sybil (87); a rapid comparison of “The Philosopher” with Troilus’ lines in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida (107); an allusion to Thackeray’s Vanity Fair as an example of satire upon the hypocrisy of society (108);10 he aligns Brontë with Blake and Browning, as poets “of the passionate love of like and the will to be” (108); and he compares Catherine’s divided mind to that of Hamlet (113); but he does not explicitly mention one direct literary influence for the novel. Indeed, Wilson himself recognizes that “[i]‌t is not for a moment believed that the sketch here drawn is adequate or does her justice” (114). Indeed, it does not make her justice. His bold affirmation that “[a]mong the English writers of her time she seems to stand alone and apart” (94) exposes the hermeneutic poverty of his otherwise innovative reading.

In the same way that David Wilson tries to picture Emily Brontë among the lives of her people, Arnold Kettle points out that Wuthering Heights is about England in 1847: “The people it reveals live not in a never-never land, but in ←25 | 26→Yorkshire. Heathcliff was born, not in the pages of Byron, but in a Liverpool slum” (Kettle 130). Kettle ends the essay with the claim that the novel is

an expression in the imaginative terms of art of the stresses, tensions, and conflicts, personal and spiritual, of Nineteenth Century Capitalist society … The men and women of Wuthering Heights are not the prisoners of nature; they live in the world and strive to change it, sometimes successfully, always painfully, with almost infinite difficulty and error. (144)

Kettle insists that the theme of the novel is the social injustice of Brontë’s time rather than the fantasies of a repressed and secluded woman. Therefore, he sees Heathcliff and Catherine’s relationship as a metaphor of the oppressed that join forces in order to revolt against their tyrants. Thus, as they are oppressed by Hindley, a remnant of patriarchal authority, they end up loving each other out of their shared sufferings and they start to plan their rebellion. He bases his contention on Catherine’s bold declaration in her diary that “H. and I are going to rebel—we took our initiatory step this evening.” According to Kettle, there is nothing vague about Wuthering Heights. The power of the novel, however, does not lie in realistic description, nor in a thorough analysis of social living in the manner of Jane Austen. Brontë’s approach is much closer to Dickens’s. “Wuthering Heights is essentially the same kind of novel as Oliver Twist,” Kettle points out (131). It is neither a romance nor a picaresque novel and it cannot be described as a moral fable. Its pattern, like that of Oliver Twist, cannot be abstracted in a sentence since Emily Brontë, like Dickens, works in images and symbols. Thus, we have seen that Kettle occasionally intertwines a social reading of the novel with analogies with Oliver Twist, enriching and giving accuracy to his thorough analysis. This comparison with Oliver Twist is indeed fascinating and quite correct. In Chapter 7 of this book I will recover it and analyze the character of Heathcliff as the hero of a potential Bildungsroman.

Terry Eagleton, in his introduction to the anniversary edition of Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës (2005), argues that the Brontës’ creative and utopian imagination runs into conflict with the sordid disciplines of the industrial and capitalist England (Eagleton 11). They are transitional figures writing in the overlap between an era of high Romanticism and the birth of a new industrial society. There is a microcosm of this transition in the Brontës’ lives as they had to abandon their mythical childhood in order to face the harsh life of the Victorian governess (Eagleton 12). Eagleton characterizes Heathcliff as both gift and threat, and Mr. Earnshaw’s first words about him support it: “See here, wife! I was never so beaten with anything in my life: but you must e’en take it as a gift ←26 | 27→of God; through it’s as dark almost as if it came from the devil” (34). He asserts that Heathcliff is a “purely atomized individual” and an “internal émigré” within the Heights as he is free from genealogical ties and from the social constraints that limit the freedom and autonomy of the rest of the characters. This freedom is what allows Heathcliff to have a relationship of direct personal equality with Catherine, who, being the only daughter of the family, is not a direct heiress to the Earnshaw fortune.

Eagleton has suggested that what Hindley does is to parody Heathcliff’s freedom by turning it into the non-freedom that neglect and abandonment entail, as he is allowed to run wild on the one hand, but oppressed by work and class status on the other. Therefore, Heathcliff achieves freedom neither within society nor outside it. According to Eagleton, this contradiction summarizes a fundamental truth about bourgeois society: freedom is nourished and distorted in the very shadow of tyranny and oppression (Eagleton 104). Thus, although Romantic freedom is locked in combat with society, this Romanticism cannot completely transcend it. Heathcliff turns from a subjugated child to a merciless capitalist landowner. His freedom from genealogical ties and social constraints makes him an isolated figure with infinite possibilities of relationship. In his adulthood, however, Heathcliff becomes a Machiavellic capitalist landlord capable of anything to achieve his ends. He acts according to his most primitive and Hobbesian instincts: as a heartless predator who does not hesitate to break conventions and moral precepts.

When Lockwood visits the house for the first time, he is unable to discern Heathcliff’s social status as well as his relationship with the rest of the characters. His social relation to both the Heights and the Grange is, in fact, ambiguous. Heathcliff represents the triumph of capitalism over the traditional yeoman economy of the Heights. In that sense, he belongs to the world of the Grange, as he tries to dispossess Hareton and, consequently, to destroy the traditional yeoman economy. And yet, he does so in order to retaliate on Edgar Linton. Indeed, he employs the very weapons (marriage, property contracts, and arranged marriages) that are so frequent in the capitalist world of the Lintons. Moreover, he does this with the coarseness and resilience proper of the Heights world. Eagleton asserts that the contradiction that Heathcliff embodies is made clear in the fact that he combines Heights violence with Grange methods in order to obtain both properties (Eagleton 115), and he decodes the antagonism between Heathcliff and the Grange as a reversed version of the ideological conflict between the ascending bourgeoisie and the stagnated gentry which Charlotte Brontë also dramatizes in her works. He also maintains that Heathcliff represents “a turbulent form of capitalist aggression which must historically be civilized” (Eagleton 115).

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Thus, whereas Heathcliff symbolizes the dispossessing bourgeoisie, Linton represents the capitalist landlord, and both stand in opposition to yeoman society, represented by Hareton. Though illuminating and relevant, Eagleton overlooks that this conflict was already present in Sir Walter Scott’s The Bride of Lammermoor, in which Sir William Ashton represents this capitalist force that tries to dispossess and unseat the aristocracy of the Ravenswoods. The marriage between Hareton and Cathy can then be interpreted as a balance or fusion between the genteel world of the Lintons and the bourgeois world of Heathcliff: the drive and coarseness of the yeoman, Hareton, is refined and cultured by the landed gentry, in this case, represented by the second Cathy. Nevertheless, Eagleton realizes that the role of Hareton is ambiguous. Thus, if he is taken symbolically as a subrogate of Heathcliff, the novel’s ending implies the reconciliation between capitalist bourgeoisie and squirearchy, an ending analogous to Charlotte Brontë’s mythical resolutions. But, if he is taken literally, as a survivor of yeomanry, such a balance of power is incongruous (Eagleton 119). It is this tension between literal and symbolic meanings as well as Heathcliff’s divided ideological role, Eagleton asserts, that makes Wuthering Heights the unwieldy novel that it is and far more complex than any of Charlotte Brontë’s novels. Eagleton’s analysis of Wuthering Heights is rich with comparisons with Charlotte Brontë’s novels. For him, readers always know what to think about a Charlotte Brontë character, however, this can hardly be said of Wuthering Heights (Eagleton 98). The difference between Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Eagleton argues, can be expressed in terms of the violence and bigotry which are aspects of the narrative of Wuthering Heights whereas in Charlotte Brontë’s fiction these are qualities of the narration (Eagleton 99):

Wuthering Heights trades in spite and stiff-nakedness, but always “objectively,” as the power of its tenaciously detailed realism to survive unruffled even the gustiest of emotional crises would suggest. Malice and narrowness in Charlotte’s work, by contrast, so that characters and events are flushed with the novelist’s ideological intentions, bear the imprint of her longings and anxieties. (Eagleton 99)

Another crucial difference lies in the fact that whereas Wuthering Heights achieves its coherence from an arduous confrontation of competing forces, Charlotte Brontë’s coherence depends, on the contrary, on a pragmatic integration of them (98). According to Eagleton, both forms of coherence are ideological but Emily Brontë’s enterprise is more penetrating, radical and authentic, and it provides the basis for a greater artistic achievement (Eagleton 98). Although his essay on Wuthering Heights does not include any comparison with another ←28 | 29→nineteenth-century novel, he does include this essay within a global study in which all the Brontës’ novels appear; a fact which, though instinctive, suggests a symbiotic influence between the sisters. Despite this, Eagleton cannot help undermining—or at least ignoring—Charlotte’s role as an influence on Emily Brontë’s fiction, which is undeniable.

Feminist critics have also read the novel as historically specific. In The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination (1984), Gilbert and Gubar’s analysis of Wuthering Heights takes Catherine as the true protagonist of the novel. They draw on Freudian terminology and identify the wound in Catherine’s foot after she is attacked by the Lintons’ dogs as a symbolic castration. They also compare Catherine with Milton’s Eve and justify Catherine’s betrayal of Heathcliff arguing that, given the patriarchal system of the period, women must fall since they are doomed to fall. These critics examine Jane Austen, Mary Shelley, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Emily Dickinson. They discuss the angel/monster tropes that appear in their novels and argue that their anger was sublimated in the figure of the mad woman.

In their essay on Wuthering Heights, “Looking Oppositely: Emily Brontë’s Bible of Hell,” Gilbert and Gubar argue that the problems of literary orphanhood in Wuthering Heights, like in Frankenstein, lead to a fascination with the question of origins. This suggests, they argue, “a similarity between the two novels which brings us back to the tension between dramatic surfaces and metaphysical depths” (380). They label Brontë’s novel as a Bildungsroman since it is built around a central fall, that is, a girl’s passage from “innocence” to “experience,” and that this fall has “Miltonic overtones,” they argue, “is no doubt culturally inevitable” (382). For these critics, the world of Wuthering Heights is one in which the most improbable opposites coexist without, apparently, any awareness on the author’s part that there is anything improbable in their coexistence. “The ghosts of Byron, Shakespeare, and Jane Austen,” Gilbert and Gubar contend, “haunt the same ground” (385). They also compare Heathcliff and Catherine’s infantile union to that of Manfred with Astarte, and they argue that in this union she becomes “a perfect androgyne” (387). This comparison is especially significant if we take into account that the Brontës were admirers of Byron and deeply acquainted with his works. Involuntarily, like Eagleton, Gilbert and Gubar have established intuitive comparisons between Wuthering Heights, Jane Austen’s novels, and, especially, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, as well as they have made a relevant comparison between Heathcliff and Catherine and Byron’s Manfred and ←29 | 30→Astarte, a comparison that I will fully exploit in Chapter 5 of this monograph, “Wuthering Heights: An Epic Poem.”

In Bearing the Word (1989), Margaret Homans draws on Lacanian psychoanalytic criticism to argue that “Wuthering Heights is organized around two contrasting stories of female development, the stories of Catherine Earnshaw and of her daughter, Cathy Linton.” For Homans, in Wuthering Heights, women have difficulties to enter the symbolic order. Thus, literal meaning is identified with the figure of the mother, whose power must be inhibited from entering into the symbolic order. The story of the second Catherine represents the acceptance of the father’s law, “an acceptance that makes her a safer model for the author’s own practice” (82). Regina Barreca’s essay, “The Power of Excommunication: Sex and the Feminine Text in Wuthering Heights” (2003) also deals with women’s relationship to language. She asserts that in the novel, women can take control of language and their narration, letter-writings and readings are a “decipherable text of resistance” (235). Thus, all the texts produced by the female characters in Wuthering Heights indicate “an appropriation of the power of language which women then use as an instrument of control against the dominant order” (227). In the same way that they take control of language, they also take control of sex since women “speak their desire and act on it” (237). Neither Homans nor Barreca mention any single possible influence for the novel, nor is that their purpose.

In Emily Brontë: Heretic (1994), Stevie Davies suggests that one of the most important sources of Wuthering Heights is in the genres of English literature which are related to female experience, that is, lullabies, ballads, folk-tales, nursery stories and gossip, which comes from god sib, good speech. She relates this to the importance of the semiotic and analyses Wuthering Heights as a rebellious return to the primitive, anomic and egotistic world of childhood. Characters then “teem with childhood animosities, allegiances and obsessions; they brawl, taunt, mock, manipulate, weep and play their indoor and outdoor orgiastic games” (44). In her analysis, Davies establishes a relevant comparison with Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality (1816). Exactly, she establishes a difference in the way these two writers resolve the return of an exiled hero. Thus, whereas Scott satisfies the reader’s curiosity with relevant information about Morton’s whereabouts, so that there are no suppressions left, Brontë does not give the reader any account of Heathcliff’s travels and conquests.

Although Heathcliff gives Hindley some information about this in order to get an invitation to Wuthering Heights, readers are excluded from that information, a fact which underlies Brontë’s “narrative avarice” (Davies 88). It is true that Davies does not try to establish Old Mortality as a literary precedent for Wuthering ←30 | 31→Heights—and probably it is not—however, this comparison is highly pertinent since the Brontës were avid readers of Walter Scott. Davies makes another relevant assertion. She argues that “[d]‌espite clear verbal echoes, the guilty excitement of Byron’s Manfred is entirely lacking in Wuthering Heights” and she also undermines the popular belief that Shelley’s Epipsychidion, with its potent “Emily,/ I love thee … I am not thine: I am part of thee” is a strong influence on Brontë’s mind (Davies 192). Davies claims that it is far away from the intense struggle for frankness, insight and detached judgment in Wuthering Heights (193).

In Tradition Counter Tradition: Love and the Form of Fiction (1987), Joseph Allen Boone reads Wuthering Heights as a “counter-tradition” which breaks with the traditional marriage plot “that defined the sexes as complementary but unequal partners” (142). Boone exposes the conflicts that take place after marriage and which tend to anticipate “a thoroughgoing interrogation of the sexual and social ideologies of power perpetuating wedded discord” (142). According to Boone, Brontë examines the negative consequences of male cruelty in the relationships of the novel, as well as the internal divisions of identity that these relationships entail (152). This pattern of division is reflected in the structural ruptures of the novel, that is, in its dual narrators, in its ambiguous division between the worlds of reality and ghosts, between recalled and foreseen levels of time, and between different modes of ending (152). Such an analysis connects the early innovations of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights (1847) and George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876), with the modernist experiments of Henry James’ The Golden Bowl (1904) and Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse (1927). The unsettling strategies evolved in these novels show a truly empowering revolt against the constraints of wedlock ideology (Boone 143). These texts coincide in their effort to translate the disturbing tension of conjugal conflict into principles of narrative structure (147). Although he links the novel with subsequent novels, Boone persists in the claim that Wuthering Heights is “something of an anomaly in the English tradition of the novel” (151). For Boone, its difference is especially noticeable in “its unconventional attitudes toward love and marriage” (151). Thus, although he analyzes and stresses many of the innovations of the novel, it is not Boone’s intention to establish any literary influence for Wuthering Heights.

James Kavanagh, in Emily Brontë (1985), sees the family as an oppressive institution and construes Heathcliff as a representation of revolutionary libidinal desire and as a symbol of an oppressed class who takes revolt against its oppressors: “… Heathcliff intrudes on the novel’s original family regime not just as an agent of the father’s desire, but also as an agent of a disruptive capitalist dynamic that corrodes and transforms traditional family structures” (Kavanagh ←31 | 32→89). Kavanagh maintains a recurrent dialogue with Gilbert and Gubar’s work but he does not hint at any possible textual filiation of the novel. Lyn Pykett, in Women Writers: Emily Brontë (1989), claims that the novel shows the limits of female power and explores its problematic power. Indeed, I think it necessary to pay attention to Pykett’s wonderful chapter in this book, “Gender and Genre in Wuthering Heights: Gothic Plot and Domestic fiction.” In this chapter, Pykett anticipates my thesis and states that she aims

to look at Wuthering Heights in the context of the developing traditions of late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century fiction, and to suggest that the peculiar generic mix of this novel offers a number of interesting perspectives on the whole question of the relationship of the woman writer to the history and tradition of fiction. (Pykett 73)

Although her purpose is clear and innovative, I think that Pykett fails in the way she conducts her analysis. She includes the novel within the Female Gothic but she does not attempt to specify any single literary precedent for Wuthering Heights:

Gothic is usually taken to be the dominant genre of the first generation plot of Wuthering Heights, and is associated with its Romanticism, its mystical, fantastic and supernatural elements, and its portrayal of wild nature. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Gothic was a genre particularly identified with women writers, and many recent feminist critics have argued that Female Gothic may be seen as a complex genre which simultaneously represents women’s fears and offers fantasies of escape from them. (Pykett 76)

She asserts that embedded within this Gothic frame, there is a second narrative, that of the second generation, which moves in the direction of Victorian Domestic Realism, but, again, she does not establish parallels with any single novel (Pykett 76). In fact, in this essay, Pykett directs her attention to the way in which “the novel’s mixing of genres” is connected to issues of gender “by examining some of the ways in which specific historic genres may be related to particular historic definitions of gender” (Pykett 74), but she disregards the literary filiations of the novel. N.M. Jacobs (2003), who analyzes the structure of Wuthering Heights along with Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, argues that the narrative structure of the novel approaches the female hidden self within the social world. In both novels, Jacobs contends, the external reality is male whereas the inner reality is mainly female (219). Both novels follow the same pattern of approaching an extremely violent private reality through a narrator that ←32 | 33→justifies this violence. For Jacobs, the novel focuses on the way that relationships are distorted by power structures. Most of the violence and abuse in the novel are perpetrated by the patriarch of the house, the owner of absolute power, and by the “psychic fragmentation” that this concept of patriarchal power imposes on both men and women (227). As in The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, the opposition between male and female worlds that is reproduced in the structure of the novel is shown in terms of the source of the brutality depicted (227). Apart from The Tenant, Jacobs does not mention any possible literary influence for the novel.

In “Diaries and Displacement in Wuthering Heights” (2003), Rebecca Steinitz argues that the diary functions, both thematically and literally, as an object in which both the writer and the readers can project their own desires (254). Thus, both Catherine and Lockwood—the marginalized young daughter and the sophisticated gentleman—use their diaries to cope with their senses of displacement: “In the novel, then, the diary itself becomes the proverbial place of one’s own, but its very status as such reveals how, psychologically, textually, and materially, one’s own place can never be secured” (254). Steinitz analyzes the novel as a sequence of attempts to deal with this sense of displacement, especially the efforts of Catherine and Lockwood to do so through their diaries (257). She suggests that in her representation of the diaries, Brontë is working with the cultural connotations of the genre, especially its materiality, highlighting its ability to palliate the anxiety of place, even if she ultimately questions this ability (259). Therefore, through her diary’s actual marginality, Catherine is claiming the social margins as her own (259), and Lockwood’s violation of Catherine’s diary marks him as one who does not respect the privileged textual materiality of the genre (260). Like Jacobs’, Steinitz does not attempt to shed light on the intertextual relations of the novel.

In her groundbreaking book, Desire and Domestic Fiction (1987), Nancy Armstrong claims that with the Brontës, the history of the novel took a different turn. Domestic novels had only aimed at propriety and had tried to convey a moral lesson. In the hands of the Brontës, however, domestic fiction “struggles to socialize desires whose origin and vicissitudes comprised one’s true identity as well as his or her possibilities for growth” (Armstrong, Desire 198). Indeed, the Brontës’ work was a reaction against the kind of domestic fiction that writers such as Jane Austen were writing. This is clear in Charlotte Brontë’s correspondence, where she accuses Austen of aesthetic frivolity: “[Jane Austen] does her business of delineating the surface of the lives of genteel English people curiously well” (Selected Letters 161). However, Charlotte Brontë did not agree with this kind of polite writing and therefore she positions herself more in favour of a passionate ←33 | 34→writing: “What sees keenly, speaks aptly, moves flexibly, it suits her to study, but what throbs fast and full, though hidden, what the blood rushes through, what is the unseen seat of life and sentient target of death—this Miss Austen ignores” (Selected Letters 162).

This “what the blood rushes through” clearly stands for the restrained desires of women. Brontë concludes this critique of Austen with the famous statement that “Jane Austen was a complete and most sensible lady, but a very incomplete, and rather insensible (not senseless), woman” (Selected Letters 162). This critique, Armstrong asserts, establishes forms of sexuality as the root of aesthetics of fiction (Armstrong, Desire 192). The Brontës sought to represent the so-long-repressed female desire, which was considered anomic, in order to represent a new human nature (Armstrong, Desire 192). In her second study of nineteenth-century fiction, How Novels Think: The Limits of Individualism from 17191900 (2005), Armstrong argues that the Victorian novel represents women who express extreme forms of individualism as “extremely unattractive,” and chastises them so severely that what once led to satisfaction and the impression of a more just social order now produced the opposite consequences (Armstrong, How Novels Think 79). Armstrong suggests that, where eighteenth-century heroines from Moll Flanders to Elizabeth Bennet expanded the limits of individualism and self-expression, Victorian heroines narrowed those limits and “transformed individualistic energy into forms of self-management and containment” (Armstrong, How Novels Think 79). Most Victorian heroines pale before the atrocious behaviour of their counterparts, these being Catherine Earnshaw, Bertha Mason, Edith Dombey, Lady Deadlock, Becky Sharp, Maggie Tulliver, Tess Durbeyfield, Lizzie Eustace, and the protagonists of sensationalist novels (Armstrong, How Novels Think 80). Thus, Armstrong asserts, by embodying the radicalism of a previous individualism in female form, the Victorian novel achieves a more important purpose than venting hostility toward violent and aggressive women:

By pathologizing and criminalizing these women, Victorian fiction justified beating, drowning, burning, hanging, or exiling them for possessing qualities that the same novels would persuade us to forgive in such male characters as Heathcliff, Mr. Dombey, Rawdon Crawley, Stephen Guest, Michael Henchard, or Frank Greystock. (Armstrong, How Novels Think 81)

According to Armstrong, Victorian fiction portrayed the appalling qualities of ruling-class masculinity as truly detestable only when those qualities are present in women. In Wuthering Heights, Armstrong claims, women disturb more than ←34 | 35→stabilize domestic relations, from the two resolute Catherines, the determined Isabella Linton and the loquacious Nelly Dean. Using the example of Lockwood’s trying to prevent the ghost of the first Catherine entering her bedroom, and Heathcliff’s violent reaction to thwart Cathy’s attempt to leave Wuthering Heights, Brontë shifts the positions usually occupied by male and female and goes so far as to justify the violence that both men employ in trying to keep Catherine out of the house and Cathy in. For Armstrong,

[i]‌gnoring the fact that the displacement of masculine aggression from mother to daughter transforms that aggression into a distinctively modern form, those who track the first Catherine’s open defiance back to the author tend to regard Brontë’s negative depiction of the new men who were moving into the country as her personal rejection of modernity itself. (Armstrong, How Novels Think 87)

These readers negate Emily Brontë’s fair place at the beginning of a tradition that does not represent masculinity in positive terms: we are all too conversant with the claim that Brontë identified herself with the character of Heathcliff. Masculine identity is only asserted by subordinating and controlling femininity, creating the illusion of masculinity’s social independence and economic autonomy. This changes the grounds of masculinity and makes it susceptible to new forms of social rivalry (Armstrong, How Novels Think 87).

It goes without saying that both these Marxist and feminist critics have made a precious contribution to the critical history of Wuthering Heights. Thus, Wilson, Kettle and Eagleton have focused on the historical oppositions between Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange, and they have underlined the ideological conflicts of the novel as reflections of the social injustices of Brontë’s time. Feminist critics have read the novels in terms of gender and have chosen Catherine as the true protagonist of the novel. Armstrong has read the novel as a reaction to Jane Austen’s domestic fiction and has highlighted how women disturb more than stabilize domestic relations in the novel. In Derek Attridge’s own words, a literary text is “never entirely insulated from the contingencies of the history into which it is projected and within which it is read” (59), so that “existing artistic practices can come under pressure from a number of external sources” (38). Their analysis, though groundbreaking and exhaustive, is nevertheless reductionist.

In “The Ethics of Reading” (1987), Miller argues that literature is not a simple “reflection or example of social, historical, and ideological forces at a given time and place” (8), according to which “the story of literature would then be no more than the study of a symptom or superstructure of something else more real ←35 | 36→and more important.” What he calls “the ethical moment” in literature “cannot … be accounted for by the social and historical forces that impinge upon it. In fact the ethical moment contests these forces and is subversive of them. The ethical moment … is genuinely productive and inaugural in its effects on history” (8–9). However, this resolution of the conflict, linked to the ethical moment, is not what engages me. What I want to stress here is that these critics have overlooked the literary intertextual determinism of the novel, failing to hint at any of the possible literary precedents of the novel. Although they clearly locate the novel within the contingencies of the history through which it is produced and against which it is read, they fail to assert its position in the (English) literary tradition.

Apart from this, these critics have failed to make a connection between Wuthering Heights and the Condition-of-England novels, which emerged around 1830 and survived until the end of the century. The subject of these novels is the social problems which troubled the whole of society and they proposed imprecise solutions for the reform of human relations. The novel was contaminated with the generous idealism of a dying Romanticism which found a new path in political and social reformations (Cazamian 4). Dickens, Disraeli, Mrs. Gaskell and Kingsley were the most representative social writers of the period, but they are not the only ones: Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent, Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley and Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights could well be placed within the category of industrial novels. Indeed, in Chapter 6, I aim to account for the full right of Wuthering Heights to belong to the group of social novels. To justify this argument, I will put the novel in relationship with Shirley, which has always been considered as the most “social” of Charlotte Brontë’s novels.

Determinate Meaning of Wuthering Heights: Transcendental Determinism

Terry Eagleton asserts that the great contradiction of Wuthering Heights is Heathcliff’s conflictive identity as a metaphysical hero, spiritually disconnected from a cruel society, the class system and social conventions and totally infatuated with his love for Catherine, and a domestic intruder who craftily expropriates the capital of others (116). George Bataille (1957), the first Miller (1962), Leo Bersani (1976) Patsy Stoneman (1978), Margaret Lenta (1984), Juliet Mitchell (1984), Martha Nussbaum (1996), the first Terry Eagleton, and Joseph Carroll (2008) try to leave aside the social dimension of the novel and focus on Heathcliff ←36 | 37→and Catherine’s individual energies. In Literature and Evil (1957), George Bataille claims that “the basis of sexual effusion is the negation of the isolation of the ego which only experiences ecstasy by exceeding itself, by surpassing itself in the embrace in which the being loses its solitude” (Bataille 16). The intensity of this fusion increases to the point where destruction becomes ostensible. “What we call vice,” Bataille states, “is based on this profound implication of death” (Bataille 17). For him, no mortal love embodies this fusional communion as much as Catherine Earnshaw and Heathcliff (Bataille 17).

He finishes the essay with the assertion that the world of Wuthering Heights is the world of an aggressive sovereignty and of expiation and that once the expiation has been accepted, life blooms (Bataille 30). Bataille’s analysis does clearly postulate an erotic meaning to the novel. He is not preoccupied in establishing any literary influence of the novel and he just carelessly mentions Jacques Blondel’s comparison of two passages from Sade’s Justine and Wuthering Heights where the violence of one of the executioners in Justine is compared with Heathcliff’s destructive compulsion: “How sensual is the act of destruction, I can think of nothing which excites me more deliciously. There is no ecstasy similar to that which we experience when we yield to this divine infamy” (qtd. in Bataille 20–21). This is indeed quite similar to Heathcliff’s strong assertion that “[h]‌ad I been born where laws are less strict and tastes less dainty, I should treat myself to a slow vivisection of those two, as an evening’s amusement” (270).

Similarly, Miller, in his chapter on Emily Brontë in The Disappearance of God (1962), proclaims that in the world of Wuthering Heights destruction is the law of life. The loss of an earlier state of civilized limitation has resulted in the animalization of the inhabitants of the Heights (168). There, no laws stand between people. The world of Wuthering Heights is a world of extremes and there are only two possible solutions for an individual: the pleasure of complete and unconscious fusion with another person, and the agony of complete separation. Miller’s most original contribution in this essay takes place when, at the end of the novel, the narrator tells that, although civilization has been re-established, the church is still without a pastor, and its physical decay has made progress. He claims that Emily Brontë tries to show that society by itself grows more artificial until the churches are dilapidated and God has finally disappeared. Only the recovery of God would bring a complete regeneration of civilization. This connection with the heavenly realm can only be achieved through the transgression of religious, moral, and social laws and through the encroachment into the prohibited space between man and God. To enter this space implies to bring destruction into the world and to be torn apart by it. Both Catherine and Heathcliff have overstepped this ←37 | 38→dangerous realm by trying to impose their primitive childhood impulses on society. Miller suggests that the church is still abandoned because it does no longer have a transcendental significance. God has been transformed from the transcendent deity of Protestant orthodoxy who imposes his irrevocable commandment, to an immanent God who permeates everything, like the soft wind that blows over the heath. This new God can be possessed and it makes institutional religion unnecessary: “The love of Heathcliff and Cathy has served as a new mediator between heaven and earth, and has made any other mediator for the time being superfluous” (200–211). Like Bataille’s, this is an extremely innovative thematic analysis of the novel. Nevertheless, Miller’s brilliant essay falls short of offering any single comparison with a previous eighteenth or nineteenth-century novel.

In his chapter in A Future for Astyanax: Character and Desire in Literature (1976), “Desire and Metamorphosis,” Leo Bersani argues that Wuthering Heights is “a frenetic attempt to create family ties—or, to put it in another way, to tie the self up in an unbreakable family circle” (202). This frantic attempt to create family ties is explained in the absence or insignificance of parents in the novel. The turmoil of Wuthering Heights is caused by the arrival of Heathcliff into a family whose members know who they are and where they come from. Heathcliff breaks the family circle to penetrate it. Thus, he marries a Linton and his son marries an Earnshaw’s daughter. Although at the beginning he is resented and rejected, he is soon allowed to penetrate the complete system of familial affinities in Wuthering Heights (Bersani 206). And yet, the last marriage in Wuthering Heights, that of Hareton and Cathy, expels him forever from the two families and the foreigner becomes an intruder (206). Heathcliff’s otherness is so radical that he is always associated with the beastly, the devilish or the inanimate. Indeed, it is significant how Emily Brontë manages to suggest the futility of our distinctions between the human and the nonhuman without breaking the rules of realistic probability. Desire is fundamentally vampiristic in Wuthering Heights. Its protagonists do not focus on specific pleasures, they “want to devour being” (Bersani 213). By becoming the owner of the Heights, marrying Isabella Linton and forcing Cathy to marry his son, Heathcliff occupies a central position in the family. His strategy is to betray the family’s natural inclination to exclude that which is foreign or unfamiliar. Thus, the familiar enclosure becomes a prison, and the alien intruder becomes the rapacious master of both family properties (Bersani 221). Throughout this chapter, Bersani establishes several interesting comparisons with Isidore-Lucien Ducasse’s (Conte de Lautréamont) Les Chants de Maldoror (1869). Although morbidity and cruelty are far more explicit in Les Chants than in Wuthering Heights, Bersani compares Maldoror’s lack of origins ←38 | 39→with Heathcliff’s. As Lautréamont’s hero, Heathcliff and Catherine are “eternally restless wanderer[s]‌” (213).

In her paper, “The Brontës and Death: Alternatives to Revolution” (1978), Patsy Stoneman takes some images of transcendental death in the works of the Brontës and argues that these evade total assimilation to the ideological prerogatives because of certain anachronistic features since, in Gramsci’s terms, the Brontës are intellectuals in a traditional manner rather than in an organic relationship to their society (Stoneman 80). She also defends that these images of transcendence are blurred by the social mediation present in the novels. For Stoneman, society allows the women who are the protagonists of these novels “neither revolutionary action through rebellious social activity, nor the gesture of total rejection in death as transcendence; the most they can achieve is Emily’s impasse of confrontation, or Charlotte’s creeping subversion” (Stoneman 80). Stoneman contends that it is in Emily Brontë’s work where this “death-orientation” becomes most outstanding, the consequence being that a whole generation of critics—Stoneman mentions Lord David Cecil as the representative—have given metaphysical interpretations of Wuthering Heights (Stoneman 81). Whereas Charlotte Brontë restrains her Romanticism with models of eighteenth-century enlightenment, Emily Brontë’s transcendentalism stems from a curious combination of Romanticism and early Methodism. Neither of them, however, “fits the early Victorian death-orientation of the typical evangelical protestant” (Stoneman 84). To illustrate the clash of ideologies in the novel, Stoneman uses the statement that Catherine says about herself when she is about to die. She dreams that she is a child again, “half savage and hardy, and free” (126) and wakes up in torment, feeling as if she had “been converted at a stroke into Mrs. Linton, the lady of Thrushcross Grange, and the wife of a stranger: an exile, an outcast, thenceforth, from what had been my world” (125). For Victorian society, Stoneman argues, the fact that Catherine ceases to be Mrs. Linton implies that she becomes a fallen woman. It is quite ironic that this stigma does not apply to Heathcliff since he is allowed to retain some of his Byronic captivation in spite of moral liability (Stoneman 86).

According to Stoneman, through this “outcast” image, Emily Brontë is subtly recognizing that society’s restrictions send rebels into their graves. Thus, instead of escaping into that “glorious world” which she yearns for, Catherine can only escape to the “outside” world of the fallen woman, the world that Hester Prynne, the protagonist of Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, encounters: “There is, in fact, only the ‘inside’ and the ‘outside’ defined by society; there is no glorious ‘other’ world” (Stoneman 86). Stoneman contends, however, that Wuthering Heights is ←39 | 40→transcendental and disconcerting enough to be detached from social realism: “It is the confrontation of this residual passion in Wuthering Heights with the social reality which raises it to the level of tragedy” (Stoneman 86). Stoneman concludes that the Brontës make troubling qualifications to orthodoxy and that they bring their images of transcendence into conflict with social reality. However, whereas Emily Brontë does reject society in favour of death as transcendence, Charlotte Brontë develops a modest but subversive strategy for survival. For both sisters, life has to offer them so little that death is the best possible alternative (Stoneman 93). Although Stoneman’s aim is not to find precedents for Heathcliff and Catherine, she does establish a comparison between Heathcliff and the heroes of the Romantic movement, like the exiles and travellers from Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner to Byron’s Childe Harold. She also associates Catherine with characters of the Gothic tradition, like Cain or the Wandering Jew.

After offering an overview of the most influential Marxist readings of the novel, Margaret Lenta, in “Capitalism or Patriarchy and Immortal Love: A Study of Wuthering Heights” (1984), makes a strong assertion: “I think it important at this point to insist that the novel’s main subject, from which all other events radiate, is the love between Heathcliff and Catherine” (Lenta 67). She claims that if this novel can transcend temporality it is because of the impossible union between Heathcliff and Catherine, and the meanings it might have had. She agrees with Marxist critics in the fact that Heathcliff and Catherine are rebels against patriarchy but this is because of their strong individual energies and not because of the injustice which they suffer in their childhood. For her, the love between Catherine and Heathcliff is the perfect embodiment of Romantic love. One of her more relevant statements is that this passionate attraction was immensely valuable to Emily Brontë and that, after Catherine’s death, she gives free range to her destructive anger with Heathcliff (Lenta 73). Although she starts the essay with an unexamined assertion: “she belonged to no school; her work stands in no single clear line of descent which might help us to understand her intentions” (64), Margaret Lenta does affirm that Emily Brontë was interested in the fiction of her day. Indeed, she acknowledges Byron’s probable influence in her creation of Heathcliff and she even considers the possibility that the novel “is the result of the ‘Gothic’ reading matter available to the Brontës” (Lenta 65). Her most daring and significant assertion is that “Emily Brontë would have felt entitled to draw on her reader’s experience of the great eighteenth-century fictions,” and she accurately mentions Richardson’s Clarissa and Fielding’s Tom Jones, since both have plots “which are set in motion by the resentment of an heir who fears that he may be supplanted” (Lenta 69).

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In “Wuthering Heights: Romanticism and Rationality,” in Women: The Longest Revolution (1984), Juliet Mitchell argues that Wuthering Heights is the story of Heathcliff and, especially, “of the childhood, youth, and death of the first Catherine” (Mitchell 133). As opposed to George Eliot and Dickens, Mitchell asserts, Emily Brontë, who could experience and resist change personally, could nevertheless arrest the violence of any alteration in her novel. Thus, whereas for Dickens, writing was in some sense therapeutic: an obsession with childhood, a subsequent stage of retrospective understanding of childhood (David Copperfield and Great Expectations), and a final interest in reaching maturity (Our Mutual Friend and Edwin Drood), for Brontë, there was nothing to elude, only changes to explain: “childhood being the key in the process of exploration” (Mitchell 130). For Mitchell, Brontë’s Romanticism is not the pursuit of pastoral ideals that is characteristic of Dickens’ novels; nor it is the strange and reintegrating construct of Blake; like all Romantics, Brontë tries to unite what is splintered but, for her, division existed in the individual: “in the novel it was a state of being complete in oneself yet, simultaneously, nothing without others” (Mitchell 141). This idea bears resemblance to Wordsworth’s philosophy but it is not pantheism: whereas for Wordsworth man is man only if he is in unity with nature, for Brontë, people can exist in towns, but they exist more genuinely if they are in contact with nature and animals (Mitchell 142). Mitchell underscores the mysticism of the novel and states that it is framed and restricted by two rational and pseudo-romantic narrators, Nelly and Lockwood, who limit Emily Brontë’s powerful imagination (142). This is, she asserts, the greatness of Wuthering Heights, “the rationality of its romanticism” (143). For her, the core of the novel is the romantic affinity between two separate beings and the ontological concern with the language of soul, spirit and essence. Therefore, we have seen that, although she contrasts Brontë’s delineation of childhood with that of Eliot or Dickens and aligns her with the English Romantics, Mitchell does not explicitly establish any direct influence for the novel, nor is this her purpose in this essay.

Martha Nussbaum, in “Wuthering Heights: The Romantic Ascent” (1996), an extremely interesting reading of the novel, situates the novel within the tradition “of writing about love and its ascent or purification” (363). The most genuine expression of pure love takes place when the lovers expose themselves to pain and risk, a risk so dangerous that is close to death (364). The relationship between Catherine and Heathcliff belongs to the realm of earthly passion, a passion in which “nature and the body become the essence of the loving soul” (364). Nussbaum questions whether this Romantic love can find a way back to human compassion or whether its implosion is so deep that it must simply leave the world. ←41 | 42→She argues that in institutionalized Christianity, works that offer such an intimate gaze at the nakedness of the human soul inspire disgust and fear. This fear of the alien is what has caused the novel to be called “coarse and loathsome” when it was first published. For Nussbaum, Heathcliff is the most altruist character: he is the only one who sacrifices his life for another person. He refrains from doing any harm to Edgar for the benefit of Catherine and sacrifices his interests to hers. He is “the only civilized man among savages, he is in a genuine if peculiar sense, the only Christian among the Pharisees, and—with respect to the one person he loves—a sacrificial figure of Christ himself, the only one who sheds his own blood for another” (374). The novel suggests then that only in this deep devotion towards the lover there is genuine sacrifice and redemption (374).

Consequently, the novel also suggests a critique of imperfect and conventional Christianity. Joseph, Nelly Dean and the Lintons preach about charity and piety but all behave egoistically and vindictively most of the time (Nussbaum 374). Christianity only supports the social hierarchy “that excludes the poor and the strange, the dark-skinned and the nameless” (375). Her analysis of the love between Catherine and Heathcliff, like Bataille’s, is deeply mystic and transcendental: “The love of Heathcliff and Cathy requires, we said, a total exposure of self to another’s touch and gaze. In this way it courts a risk so total that it verges toward death. To one who loves totally, no defenses can exist. The other is in oneself and is oneself” (Nussbaum 377). For Nussbaum, the question of the novel is not why Heathcliff and Catherine cannot be together, but why Catherine is false to Heathcliff and decides to marry Edgar Linton. The reason, she argues, is that Catherine’s fears are the same of Mr. Lockwood’s. The extreme exposure of their love and its connection with pain and death are as unbearable to her as they were to Lockwood. She cannot bear the nakedness of her soul so she covers it with social clothes: marriage, children and social status. However, in trying to protect herself from the danger of death, she kills his soul as well as hers and forces him to hate as well as love her. These people are ashamed of giving themselves to others, which is the image of Christ. At some point, Lockwood defines himself as a snail which curls up inside his shell to avoid exposure. This is, Nussbaum, asserts the image of the nakedness and vulnerability of the body, a symbol of our helplessness and penetrability, our devotedness to others and to death (379).11 Although her mystic reading of the novel is enormously enlightening and relevant, Nussbaum fails in giving an account of the possible—and probable—literary precedents of the Romantic community that Catherine and Heathcliff form.

Terry Eagleton, in his chapter on the Brontës in The English Novel: An Introduction (2005), also contends that what distinguishes Wuthering Heights is its ←42 | 43→refusal to negotiate its desire in the manner of Charlotte’s fiction, a quite ironic statement if we take into account Charlotte Brontë’s critique of Austen. The story of Catherine and Heathcliff, Eagleton asserts, “is one of absolute commitment and an absolute refusal” (The English Novel 133). The novel organizes itself in terms of conflicts between passion and society, rebellion and moral orthodoxy; “it is a tragic novel in the epoch of high realism” (Eagleton, The English Novel 133). He supports his argument with Catherine’s dilemma between Heathcliff and Edgar Linton. Although she tries to achieve “a Charlotte-like compromise,” this results in tragedy. In this novel, there is a radical absolutism of desire whose final outcome is death; a death which represents the limits of society but which is not devoid of hope, since only after death the lovers can be together (Eagleton, The English Novel 134). According to Eagleton, one of the novel’s boldest accomplishments is to demystify the Victorian ideal of the family as a secure enclave of human value in an inhuman society (Eagleton, The English Novel 139). As in the novels by Dickens, family in Wuthering Heights is also a socio-economic order, distorted and coerced by social imperatives and less romanticized (Eagleton, The English Novel 139). In this global study, Eagleton offers a precise chronology of the English novel from Daniel Defoe to Virginia Woolf, coupling together writers such as Defoe and Jonathan Swift, Henry Fielding and Samuel Richardson, and Walter Scott and Jane Austen. Although he ventures an interesting parallel between the novels by the later Dickens and Wuthering Heights, Eagleton neither explains nor fully exploits this relevant comparison.

In “The Cuckoo’s History: Human Nature in Wuthering Heights” (2008) Joseph Carroll asserts that, by uniting naturalism with mysticism, Emily Brontë grants strangeness and mystery to her symbolic figurations (246). For Carroll, the end of Wuthering Heights contrasts domestic reconciliation with emotional violence that reflects deep disturbances in the phases of human life history. He asserts that, although readers often feel pity for Catherine and Heathcliff, they rarely like them or find them morally attractive (251). In the mode of realism, he asserts, they are driven by romantic attraction and social ambition whereas in the mode of supernatural fantasy, they are Satanic characters. Their relationship is dominated by Romantic identification with the elemental forces of nature and with a deep psychological bond between the two children. They achieve consummation not in successful sexual union but in the mingling of rotten flesh (252). For both Catherine and Heathcliff, dying implies a spiritual triumph. Thus, the transfiguration of violent passion into mysticism enables them to escape from a socially repressive world. In the alternative realm occupied by Heathcliff and Catherine, the lovers dissolve into a single individual identity which is absorbed into an animistic ←43 | 44→natural world (Carroll 253). Although the second generation is rapidly immersed in the reproductive cycle, Catherine and Heathcliff break with that cycle and they become “elegiac shadows cast by pain and grief” (Carroll 254).

Like Mitchell or Nussbaum, Carroll does not correlate the Romantic themes in the novel with any previous eighteenth or nineteenth-century novel and this is, in fact, a mistake. Eighteenth and early nineteenth-century European literature is rich with star-crossed lovers entrapped within social contracts and moral precepts who find as their only escape a transcendental or suicidal implosion: Lucy Ashton and Edgar Ravenswood in The Bride of Lammermoor, Astarte and Manfred in Manfred, Don Lorenzo and Antonia in The Monk, La Belle Dame sans Merci and the unidentified knight of Keats’ poem, Lamia and Lycius in Lamia, Gustav and Toni in “The Betrothal in Santo Domingo,” Sarrasine and Zambinella in Sarrasine, and Henry De Marsay and the girl with the golden eyes in La Fille aux Yeux d’Or, among others. Even the neoclassical Jane Austen betrays some glimpses of what the French writer and philosopher, Maurice Blanchot, calls “a community of lovers.” For instance, Marianne Dashwood and Willoughby in Sense and Sensibility, or the already married Maria Rushworth and her lover, Henry Crawford, in Mansfield Park.

In the Chapter 3 of this book, “Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen: Rousseauian Nature, Implosive Communities and the Performative Subversion of the Law,” I will develop this theme among others. Returning to this group of critics, all of them highlight the eroticism and transcendence of the protagonists’ love, which, quite interestingly, implies a revolt against the very social system. For all of them, the lovers’ death constitutes a form of spiritual triumph against the barriers of class. Thus, George Bataille and Margaret Lenta focus on the fusional communion of Catherine and Heathcliff and in their individual energies. Miller, Bersani and Stoneman centre on the religious, social and moral transgression that the transcendental love between Catherine and Heathcliff entails. Nussbaum and Carroll highlight how this love is purgative and redemptive and how it implies a spiritual triumph. To my mind, these readings, though enlightening, are nevertheless naïve. The Romantic community of Catherine and Heathcliff is in fact deeply rooted in the normative community; it represents an epochal solution to escape from an oppressive society through a spiritual and transcendental inflation.

Indeterminate Meaning: Deconstruction

The generic indeterminacy and the hermeneutic tension and opacity of Wuthering Heights have always surpassed the expectations of readers and critics and have ←44 | 45→triggered a wide range of deconstructionist criticism which has highlighted the uncanny trapping power of Emily Brontë’s novel. This forms the third group of critics. In his chapter on Wuthering Heights in The Classic: Literary Images of Permanence and Change (1975), Frank Kermode defines a classic as the works which survive time and which “are complex and indeterminate enough to allow us our necessary pluralities” (Kermode 121). If a work of art is good, he claims, it is because of its openness, and it is in the nature of authors and readers to close them (Kermode 121). For Kermode, the confusion of generations, the multiple usurpations and the dim quality of dreams, visions and ghosts serve to disorder predictable readings, to confuse explanation and expectation and to make necessary for the reader to accept the inherent plurality of the novel (Kermode 129). One of his most significant contributions is his assertion that the chain of narrators serve to intercede between the savagery of the story and the civility of the reader, making the text a hybrid between archaic and modern. It is the reader who has to decide and to make the necessary adjustments: “Plurality is here not a prescription but a fact” (Kermode 129). The possibilities of interpretation increase with time but the hermeneutic gap remains and the reader’s imagination must work. Wuthering Heights has the quality of outrageousness, the outré, and this is what makes it such a modernist text. The work has what Jakobson calls “constitutive ambiguity” and this ambiguity elicits a great number of readings (Kermode 137). The classic, Kermode claims, has been secularized and this process forces us to recognize its plurality (Kermode 139). His reading is relevant and enlightening, but Kermode fails in trying to enrich the heterogeneity of the text by establishing a dialogic relation with previous texts.

In his essay in Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels (1982), “Wuthering Heights: Repetition and the ‘Uncanny,’ ” Miller argues that the novel invites readers to grasp a secret meaning. He compares Lockwood’s situation to that of the reader, since both are confronted with confusing data and they try to make sense of it (Miller 43). Miller’s main argument is that there is not a single and clear reading of the novel. He contends that “the best readings will be the ones which best account for the heterogeneity of the text, its presentation of a definite group of possible meanings which are systematically interconnected, determined by the text, but logically incompatible” (Miller 51). The text is “over-rich” in allusions and symbols but, at the same time, it resists interpretation or, at least, resists being reduced to a single interpretation (Miller 52). The novel organizes itself in oppositions: stormy weather against tranquil weather; the violence of the Heights against the civilized restraint of the Grange; the inside against the outside; the parents against offspring; those who read and those who scorn books; ←45 | 46→strong people like Heathcliff or feeble people like Lockwood or Linton Heathcliff (Miller 61).

One of the most unwieldy aspects of the novel is its reproductive and repetitive power: children substitute their parents, one narrator replaces another. Similarly, at the end of the novel, when he observes the triple grave of Edgar, Catherine, and Heathcliff, Lockwood prevents them from dying, prolonging them through time and granting ambiguity to the novel. Life opposes death here. Patsy Stoneman brilliantly summarizes Kermode and Miller’s readings: “Crudely speaking, Leavis says, ‘there is one truth;’ Kermode says, ‘there are many truths;’ Miller says, ‘there is no truth’ ” (Stoneman, “Introduction,” xxxviii). In this book, Miller also analyzes Lord Jim, Henry Esmond, Tess of the D’Urbevilles, The Well-Beloved, Mrs. Dalloway and Between the Acts, all of them in their capacity to generate a heterogeneity of meanings through repetitions. When talking about the complexity of the narration in Wuthering Heights, Miller asserts that “it has its precedents in modern fictional practice from Cervantes down to novelists contemporary with Brontë” (Miller 46) but he neither specifies these contemporary novelists nor elaborates on this comparison. He does not establish any conscious comparison between Wuthering Heights and previous literary texts. However, he does mention two poems by Wordsworth, “The Boy of Winander,” and “The Ruined Cottage,” which cast light on the end of Wuthering Heights: the speakers of these poems are survivors who stand by a tombstone reflecting on the life and death of someone who is gone. Similarly, Wuthering Heights “may be thought of as a memorial narration pieced together by Lockwood from what he can learn” (Miller 58).

In the chapter on Wuthering Heights, “At the Threshold of Interpretation,” in her book, Uncontainable Romanticism: Shelley, Brontë, Kleist (1989), Carol Jacobs, like Miller, parallels Lockwood’s intrusions into the house of Wuthering Heights with the readers’ attempts “to penetrate Wuthering Heights-as-text” (Jacobs 62). Jacobs contends that if, on the one hand, Kermode seems to close the text of Wuthering Heights, on the other, he foregrounds its multiplicity of meanings (Jacobs 67). For Jacobs, Lockwood’s visit to Wuthering Heights is a parable of homelessness and exclusion since, as soon as he enters the house, Lockwood notices his exile. However, although Wuthering Heights denies him shelter, the obstinate intruder will force his admission repeatedly: “I don’t care—I will get in! So resolved, I grasped the latch and shook it vehemently” (Jacobs 72). Wuthering Heights is then “an annunciation of excommunication” (Jacobs 80). The intruder who enters the closed space of Wuthering Heights is permanently expelled.

Wuthering Heights, Jacobs asserts, is then about the struggle between fiction and nonfiction (Jacobs 80). In this book, Jacobs also analyzes Shelley’s “Medusa” ←46 | 47→and Kleist’s Penthesilea, Prince Friedrich von Homburg, Michael Kohlhaas, and “The Duel.” Although she does not make an explicit attempt to relate these texts with Wuthering Heights, she labels all these texts under the term “uncontainable romanticism” because of “the insistence in each text that it stages its own critical performance” (Jacobs ix). These texts challenge in theatrical ways the possibility of their own linguistic status. They play with the diffuse difference between history and fiction, with a narrator or interpreter who is as confused as the reader. Therefore, Jacobs gathers these texts because they share their hermeneutic inaccessibility and they betray their own narrative performance. Thus, whereas Kermode underlines the openness of the text and its constitutive ambiguity, Miller emphasizes that there is a secret meaning which resists interpretation. Carol Jacobs, on her part, highlights the metafictional quality of the novel as well as its hermeneutic inaccessibility. Nevertheless, neither of these critics tries to account for this heterogeneity by paying attention to the possible literary contexts that might have an influence on the novel or, rather, to a possible process of polygenesis which would explain why the novel shares many traits with different literary genres, like Gothic or Domestic fiction, or with non-English texts, like Kleist’s Novellen or Balzac’s novels.


This is a selection of books and articles dating from the novel’s publication to the early twenty-first century but a large body of encyclopaedic works of reference has recently cropped up. Twenty-first-century Brontë scholarship has built on its massive critical heritage and have given due attention to the broader, biographical, social, historical, philosophical and cultural factors that had been disregarded by earlier critics. In fact, a fundamental critical shift has lately taken place: a growing sociological attention to cultural studies on the one hand and an emphasis on interdisciplinarity on the other, bringing fresh theoretical-historical approaches into the conversation. Alexandra Lewis’ edited collection, The Brontës and the Idea of the Human: Science, Ethics, and the Victorian Imagination (2019), examines how the Brontës’ works—novels, poems, juvenilia and essays—“influenced and was influenced by wider developing conceptions of the human subject in science, philosophy, political economy, religious thought and other works of literature” (5). This interdisciplinary work offers a stimulating study of the role of imagination in the Brontës’ explorations of what it means to be human. Although this volume proposes a broad and vangardist approach to the Brontës’ oeuvre, it dismisses the specificity and singularity of linguistic and literary forms, obscuring then the literary context that overdetermines the novel.

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Thus, the collection edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Deborah Denenholz Morse, A Companion to the Brontës (2016), brings together the newest literary research and theory on the life, work, and legacy of the Brontë family. In Howeveler and Morse’s own words, this volume addresses “an inclusive interpretation of the Brontës that often focuses upon biography and place as well as on historical circumstance” (3). Not only does it include studies on the Brontë sisters and their works, but it also comprises articles on the other members of the Brontë family, such as Rev. Patrick Brontë and Branwell Brontë, providing a complete overview of this prolific family. This compendium of articles provides an extensive study of the Brontës and the variety of topics that it blends makes it a very useful guide for either undergraduates or scholars. Its wide—and frequently biographical—scope as well as the fact that it is an edited collection of articles by different authors provide a far-reaching overview of Brontë scholarship. Although its approach is largely biographical, this volume contains some illuminating articles which hint at some potential textual filiations of the novel. Hence, Hoeveler’s essay, “The Brontës and the Gothic Tradition,” reviews how three major Brontë novels—Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Villette—employ and refurbish the conventions, poses, obsessions, and anxieties of the Gothic novel tradition; and Maynard’s article, “Poetry of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily,” throws light on the poems by placing them in conversation with those of Alfred Tennyson, Robert Browning, John Keble, Walter Scott and Lord Byron, emphasizing the sisters’ use of dramatic monologue and putting forward the Romantic motifs present in their poems.

In line with the currently flourishing interest in biography and cultural studies, the collection edited by Marianne Thormählen, The Brontës in Context (2012), includes forty-two essays in which different Brontë scholars endeavour to correct the erroneous idea that the Brontë sisters were “dreamy geniuses isolated on their faraway moors” (5) and they present them as early nineteenth-century intellectuals who were really interested in what was happening in the world, in the arts, in politics, in philosophy and in religion. Thus, the works of the Brontës are examined within the social, political and cultural context of the early-nineteenth-century Britain, paying particular attention to religion, education, art, print culture, agriculture, law and medicine. Although the focus of this volume is not on the literary context, it does contain illuminating essays which bring into the fore interesting intertextual connections for the Brontës’ oeuvre. For instance, Sara Lodge’s essay reviews some of the literary influences on the Brontës, explicitly mentioning some of the works that I use as intertexts in the present book, such as Milton’s Paradise Lost, the German novellas, Byron’s ←48 | 49→Manfred, Samuel Richardson’s novels, Sir Walter Scott’s novels, and the poetry of Shelley, Coleridge and Wordsworth.

Bronte scholarship extend (thematic) analysis of philosophical and historical issues. In Emily Brontë and Religious Imagination (2014), Simon Marsden analyzes Wuthering Heights and a selection of Brontë’s poems in relation to theological concepts such as natural theology, biblical hermeneutics, original sin, apocalypse and eschatology (1). Marsden argues that the Brontë’s writing is influenced by the religious discourses of its time and, particularly, by Romantic thoughts and appropriations of religious language (1). His reading of religious themes in Wuthering Heights is also enriched by a comparison with Emily Brontë’s poems. Although Marsden’s reading offers many perceptive insights into the religious context of Emily Brontë’s works, his analysis does not pay much attention to aesthetics or form and it ignores the intertextual mediations that lurk around Emily Brontë’s oeuvre.

Aligned with the calls for renewed attention to historical context and detail rather than anhistorical universality is Ian Ward’s exhaustive analysis of jurisprudence in the Brontës’ novels. In Law and the Brontës (2012), Ward makes a stimulating legal analysis of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights and Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, showing how the law facilitated patriarchal authority in the mid-Victorian period. In the chapter, “Heathcliff’s case,” Ward contends that Wuthering Heights, like The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, exposes the limits of law and justice. The whole novel moves around Heathcliff’s origins and “the brutal marginalisation of a category of persons, which was constructed by social prejudice and confirmed by legal prescription” (52). The jurisprudence that lies at the core of Wuthering Heights fails to address the situation of bastards (52). Thus, Ward reviews the Poor Laws of 1733, 1834, and 1844 and argues that Heathcliff’s legal dispossession due to illegitimacy triggers his sophisticated game of revenge. Heathcliff’s appropriation of both Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange expose “the impotence and the complicity of the law” since English property law was written “to help men like Heathcliff consolidate estates” (Ward 53). Ward’s sustained legal analysis of Wuthering Heights is sometimes spiced with interesting references to Byron or Dickens. And yet, even though he establishes an effective conversation between the Brontës’ novels, Ward disregards the literary debts that the novel incurs with previous texts.

Although this is just a selection of five books, there is a wealth of new critical publications devoted to the Brontës and their work. And yet, I think that these volumes represent the two prevailing critical currents on the Brontës’ oeuvre. ←49 | 50→Thus, the current critical tendency is either to place the Brontë sisters and their works within a biographical, critical, historical, philosophical, religious, cultural, literary, and/or thematic context—A Companion to the Brontës, The Brontës in Context, The Brontës and the Idea of the Human—or to provide a sustained analysis of a given thematic topic within the Brontës’ works—Emily Brontë and the Religious Imagination, Law and the Brontës. My aim in my manuscript is a rather different one. My chief contribution is to account for the hermeneutic singularity of Wuthering Heights by contrasting it with previous, contemporary and even posterior literary texts which willy nilly contributed to the stabilization of the novel in the Victorian literary field. My focus on literary rather than religious, historical, or philosophical texts signals the specificity of my approach vis-à-vis the critical literature I have just described. My point is that these literary texts—or intertexts—shed light on the novel’s formal, thematic and ideological structure because they actually determine it. I thus reverse the standard direction of determinism: rather than having ideology bear on the literary text from an outside made of cultural and historical determinants, it is literary intertextuality that conditions, through formal configurations and thematic constellations, the literary text’s ideological structure. My aim, in a nutshell, is to demonstrate how the meaning of Wuthering Heights is built up in intertextual participation, influence and struggle.

My Critical Position: Inter-Textual Determinism

In order to arrive to a conclusion, I will make use of Nancy Armstrong’s enlightening article, “Emily Brontë: In and Out of her Time” (1982). In this article, Armstrong calls attention to the fact that Emily Brontë has a precarious relationship with a nineteenth-century intellectual tradition which endorsed humanistic values (365). She contends that there is a tendency to align Brontë either with the Romantic reactionaries who reacted against the fiction which was in vogue during the 1840s or with the utilitarian tradition that gave rise to literary realism (365). The problem of identifying the genre of Wuthering Heights, Armstrong asserts, has not been resolved yet. For Armstrong, the key to classify the novel “rests upon Heathcliff and how one describes his character” (366). Thus, by finding the way to decode Heathcliff we can discover which nineteenth-century categories make the novel an intelligible whole. Heathcliff actually problematizes the distinction between romance and realism and it is precisely due to the breakdown of this distinction that the question of its genre arises (366). Though his rise into ←50 | 51→power dramatizes the apotheosis of the Romantic hero, Heathcliff’s incursion into the capitalist world cancels out the Romantic possibilities.

According to Armstrong, by granting a particular point of origin in the slums of Liverpool to Heathcliff, rather than giving the matter more open to Romantic possibilities, Brontë makes Heathcliff more capable of acquiring any meaning related to such a potentially hostile environment. Ironically, Heathcliff can only preserve his role of hero so long as he remains helpless, the innocent object of pathos. This is clearly a departure from Romantic prototypes who try to bring general good and social reform (Armstrong 369). The fact that he can have these bestial qualities while remaining the protagonist of the novel is what differentiates him from other Victorian heroes, like Dickens’ and Thackeray’s characters (369). For this critic, the competitive drive rooted in the accumulation of capital is what transfers Heathcliff from the margins of society to its very centre: “Once there, he displays all the vices that have accompanied political power, the Lintons’ sophistication, their veneer of civility, as well as the Earnshaws’ brutality” (Armstrong 370). Money is what empowers him to penetrate the enduring institutions of marriage, inheritance, and property ownership and to use these institutions to his advantage. In acquiring both the Heights and the Grange, Heathcliff initiates “a new form of tyranny that undoes all former systems of kinship and erases the boundaries between class as well as between family lines” (370). The second generation is created from the ruins of the first one and its characters are much more in line with Victorian standards and expectations; they are not unlike the characters in Dickens and Thackeray:

Conventionalized behavior rather than impulse or desire seems to be the true mark of one’s character. Capitalism replaces a belated feudalism as the chief source of villainy, and competition is treated as a fact of life that converts sentient beings into objects in the marketplace. (Armstrong 371)

Whereas Dickens’ and Thackeray’s characters operate within Victorian standards and paradigms, Brontë’s characters, on the other hand, fall into the Victorian world because of the breakdown of the idealist categories of Romantic discourse. Thus, out of earlier pieces of fiction comes then a new kind of fiction whose value resides in reconstitution of the family rather than in the claims of the individual. The outcome is that problems are posed in one set of literary conventions but cannot be answered by the other; thus, Armstrong aligns herself with the second group of critics and contends that “this is an essentially disjunctive novel” (Armstrong 371). Heathcliff triumphs over the institutions that have ←51 | 52→been oppressing him and, therefore, he becomes what Deleuze and Guattari call a “machine désirante” (7) whose ambition has been overvalued to the detriment of the community.12 Hence, desire loses its beneficial power and value is again invested in familiar and social traditions. The end of the novel is then grounded on revisionary values where love is no longer associated with natural desire (Armstrong 373). It is here, and this is what concerns me the most, where Wuthering Heights can be placed inside the system of Victorian literature, for it is very common for the protagonist of a novel to violate social boundaries as Heathcliff does: “What is more, the social climbers of the fiction of the thirties and forties tend to differ from their earlier counterparts in this significant respect: lacking a pedigree, they cannot penetrate the old squirarchy without destroying it” (Armstrong 373).

Thus, Armstrong asserts, Heathcliff can be compared to Dickens’ Oliver Twist, Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, and Thackeray’s Becky Sharp in this respect. They are also machines désirantes who threaten to become usurpers, criminals, or tyrants by pursuing their ambitions, and their Satanic features must be domesticated so that the social tensions can be convincingly resolved and give way to social cohesion (Armstrong 373). I have stated that this is what especially engages me because this is one of the most explicit and powerful attempts to place the character of Heathcliff in line with his previous counterparts: Oliver Twist, Jane Eyre, Mary Barton, and Becky Sharp are not only characters who share a great number of traits with Heathcliff (foreignness, demonic desire, ambition …), they are also feasible precedents of Heathcliff. Critics tend to undermine Charlotte Brontë’s influence as writer on her sister and they only focus on her role as sister and first mythographer of Emily Brontë but we cannot forget that Emily Brontë was probably the first reader of Jane Eyre and that it is very probable that she read Oliver Twist, Mary Barton and Vanity Fair, especially the last ones, since Charlotte Brontë was indeed deeply acquainted with Elizabeth Gaskell and deeply admired William Thackeray.

I think it is convenient to add here that Charlotte Brontë—the most highly-regarded of the Brontë sisters at that time as well as the one who had a documented relationship with a nineteenth-century intellectual tradition—felt a profound admiration for William Thackeray and she even dedicated Jane Eyre to him:

There is a man in our own days whose words are not framed to tickle delicate ears: who, to my thinking, comes before the great ones of society, much as the son of his Imlah came before the throned Kings of Judah and Israel; and who speaks truth as deep, with a power as prophet-like and as vital—a mien as dauntless and ←52 | 53→as daring. Is the satirist of “Vanity Fair” admired in high places? I cannot tell; but I think if some of those amongst who he hurls the Greek fire of his sarcasm, and over whom he flashes the levin-brand of his denunciation, were to take his warnings in time—they or their seed might yet escape a fatal Ramoth-Gilead.

Why have I alluded to this man? I have alluded to him, reader, because I think see in him an intellect profounder and more unique than his contemporaries have yet recognized; because I regard him as the first social regenerator of the day—as the very master of that working corps who would restore to rectitude the warped system of things; because I think no commentator on his writings has yet found the comparison that suits him, the terms which rightly characterize his talent. They say he’s like Fielding: they talk of his wit, humor, comic powers. He resembles Fielding as an eagle does a vulture: Fielding could stoop on carrion, but Thackeray never does. His wit is bright, his humor attractive, but both bear the same relation, to his serious genius that the mere lambent sheet-lightning playing under the edge of the summer-cloud, does to the electric death-spark his in its womb. Finally: I have alluded to Mr. Thackeray, because to him—if he will accept the tribute of a total stranger—I have dedicated this second edition of Jane Eyre. (Jane Eyre ii)

What is remarkable here is how little does Jane Eyre resemble any of Thackeray’s novels: “I have received the Scotsman, and was greatly amused to see Jane Eyre likened to Rebecca Sharp—the resemblance would hardly have occurred to me” (Selected Letters 95), said Charlotte Brontë in a letter to her editor (Selected Letters 95), and how much it resembles Pamela and Oliver Twist. This strong resemblance serves me as the perfect excuse to make an indirect link between Wuthering Heights and these two extraordinary novels, a connection that I will develop throughout this book. Thus, what I want to expose here is the lack of comparative studies which set lines of comparison between Wuthering Heights and these novels. I think that it is absolutely necessary to overcome the idea that Emily Brontë’s novel is sui generis and to pull the threads that take us back to its most likely precedents, and this is my purpose in this monograph. Therefore, after this thorough examination of the most relevant critical reviews on Wuthering Heights, where do I place myself?

In the first chapter of Fiction and Repetition, Miller argues that the “specificity” and “strangeness” of literature and its capacity to surprise the reader means that

The “specificity” and “strangeness” of Wuthering Heights is especially profound. Indeed, what the philosopher Adorno wrote of Kafka could be perfectly applied to Wuthering Heights: “Each sentence says ‘Interpret me,’ and none will permit it.” (Adorno 246). The fact that it is still today read and studied rests on the universal appeal of its themes (love, jealousy, vengeance …), and also on its presentation of enigmas without solutions.13 The different narrative presences generate confusion since the narrators are themselves puzzled by what they recount. Emily Brontë’s novel is thus typical of modernism in demanding an active reading. Thus, the reader is not requested to consume the text passively but to participate actively in the task of demystifying it, in resisting simple interpretations and in reaching, not a solution, but a complete experience of the text in the act of reading. For Miller, his main incentive in reading literature is “to devise a way to remain aware of the strangeness of the language of literature and to try to account for it” (Fiction and Repetition 21).

I wish to fight Emily Brontë’s popular image as a Rousseauian savage and to align myself with the critics who value above all the rich heterogeneity and the multiple value of the text, but I want to enrich this heterogeneity by examining its dialogic relation with previous texts. Therefore, in this book I want to propose a new reading of Wuthering Heights which posits an intertextual overdeterminate (Althusser) meaning of the novel.14 I hope to have underlined the claim with which I began this chapter, that I wish to account for this strangeness by looking at the possible precedents of Wuthering Heights, and by overcoming the critical paralysis that surrounds the novel and its indeterminate place within the (English) literary tradition.


1In his famous and much-quoted essay, “Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights” in Early Victorian Novelists: Essays in Revaluation, David Cecil claims that Emily Brontë “stands outside the main current of nineteenth-century fiction as markedly as Blake stands outside the main current of eighteenth-century poetry” (149).

2In Truth and Method (1960), Gadamer asserts that modern historical research is “the handing down of tradition” (285): “We do not see it only in terms of progress and verified results; in it we have, as it were, a new experience of history whenever the past resounds in a new voice” (Gadamer 285).

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3For a historical account of the configuration of the Brontë myth, see Lucasta Miller’s The Brontë Myth (2002).

4I have selected this contextualization as one of the possible—and probable—influences on the writing of Wuthering Heights. Thus, in Chapter 3, “Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen: Rousseauian Nature, Implosive Communities and the Performative Subversion of the Law,” I make an exhaustive thematic comparison of Wuthering Heights and Kleist’s Novellen based on their common reading of Rousseau’s works.

5Taken from The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights. Web 3.10. 2016. http://www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/reviews.php.

6“A perfect misanthropist’s heaven” (1) is Lockwood’s literal description of Wuthering Heights.

7All these reviews have been taken from The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights.

8In Novels of the Eighteen-Forties, Kathleen Tillotson points out that “French novels were much read in England at this time by men and independent women” (Tillotson 7). She also states that the term “George-Sandism” was an accepted label at the time and that contemporary critics have drawn comparison between Charlotte Brontë and George Sand.

9Taken from The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights.

10In fact, Wilson asserts that “[h]‌er novel is not a social satire, like Vanity Fair, nor a parable; it is a reflection of the world of social conflict coming into being. It is the completest picture we can have of the world as Emily Brontë saw it” (Wilson 110).

11Lockwood’s own comparison with a snail which “shrunk icily into [him]self” (4) resonates in Shakespeare’s King Lear, the only literary allusion in the novel. When Lear realizes that he has been unfair with his youngest daughter, Cordelia, the Fool jokingly tells him that a snail has a house “to put’s head in; not to give it away to his/ daughters,/ and leave his horns without a case” (I.V.2). This is another allusion to the exposure and vulnerability of the dispossessed and naked body.

12The term “machine désirante” was coined by the French thinkers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari in their work, L’Anti-Aedipe. Deleuze and Guattari oppose the Freudian theory of the unconscious as a theatre and argue that the unconscious is like a factory and the body is an assembly of machines producing desire. Thus, man is a productive machine; it is inscribed in physical matter as evidenced by its actions: “Ça respire, ça chauffe, ça mange. Ça chie, ça baise.” Man is then described as “une machine à manger, une machine anale, une machine à parler, une machine à respire.” Therefore, the products of these machine désirantes are “des effets de machine et non des metaphors” (Deleuze and Guattari 348).

13Virginia Woolf, writing about Wuthering Heights, said: “That gigantic ambition is to be felt throughout the novel, a struggle half thwarted but of superb conviction, to say something through the mouths of characters which is not merely ‘I love’ or ‘I hate’ but ‘we, the whole human race’ and ‘You; the eternal powers …’ the sentence remains unfinished” (qtd. in Kettle 145).

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14For Althusser, all historical societies are constituted by an infinity of concrete determinations (political laws, religion, custom, habits, financial, commercial and economic regimes, the educational system, the arts, philosophy, etc.). All these determinations constitute an organic totality which “is reflected in a unique internal principle, which is the truth of all those concrete determinations” (“Contradiction and Overdetermination” 6).


Adorno, Theodor W. “Notes on Kafka.” In Prisms. Translated by Samuel and Shirley Weber. London: Spearman, 1967.

Allot, Miriam. “Wuthering Heights: The Rejection of Heathcliff?” Essays in Criticism 8, no. 1 (1958): 27–47.

Althusser, Louis. “Contradiction and Overdetermination.” In Notes for an Investigation, Part III of “For Marx. Translated by Ben Brewster. London: Penguin, 1962.

Armstrong, Nancy. “Emily Brontë In and Out of Her Time.” Genre 15, no. 3 (1982): 365–373.

———. Desire and Domestic Fiction: A Political History of the Novel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1987.

———. How Novels Think: The Limits of British Individualism from 17191900. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.

Attridge, Derek. The Singularity of Literature. 2004. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Barreca, Regina. “The Power of Excommunication: Sex and the Feminine Text in Wuthering Heights.” In Sex and Death in Victorian Literature, edited by Regina Barreca, 227–240. London: Macmillan, 1999.

Bataille, Georges. “Emily Brontë.” In Literature and Evil. 1957. Translated by Alastair Hamilton. London: Marion Boyars, 2006, 21–32.

Bersani, Leo. “Desire and Metamorphosis.” In A Future for Astyanax, 189–229. 1976. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984.

Boone, Joseph Allen. Tradition and Counter Tradition: Love and the Form of Fiction. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1987.

Brontë, Charlotte. Charlotte Brontë: Selected Letters, edited by Margaret Smith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010.

Brontë, Emily. Wuthering Heights, edited by Patsy Stoneman. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Carroll, Joseph. “The Cuckoo’s History: Human Nature in Wuthering Heights.” Philosophy and Literature 32, no. 2 (2008): 241–257.

Cazamian, Louis. The Social Novel in England 18301850: Dickens, Disraeli, Mrs. Gaskell, Kingsley. Translated by Martin Fido. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1973.

Cecil, David. “Emily Brontë and Wuthering Heights.” In Early Victorian Novelists: Essays in Revaluation, 147–193. London: Constable and Co., 1934.

Davies, Stevie. Emily Brontë: Heretic. London: Women’s Press, 1994.

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Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. L’Anti-Aedipe. Capitalisme et Schizophrénie. Paris: Editions de Minuit, 1972.

Dunn, Richard J. “Backgrounds and Contexts.” In Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, 259–351. New York: A Norton Critical Edition, 2003.

Eagleton, Terry. Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontës. 1975. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005a.

———. The English Novel: An Introduction. 1946. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2005b.

Gadamer, Hans-Georg. Truth and Method. 1960. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. London: Continuum, 2006.

Gilbert, Sandra, and Susan Gubar. The Madwoman in the Attic: The Woman Writer and the Nineteenth-Century Literary Imagination. 1979. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984.

Hoeveler, Diane Long. “The Brontës and the Gothic Tradition.” In A Companion to the Brontës, edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Deborah Denenholz Morse, 31–48. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2016.

Hoeveler, Diane Long, and Deborah Denenholz Morse. A Companion to the Brontës. London: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Homans, Margaret. “The Name of the Mother in Wuthering Heights.” In Bearing the Word: Language and Female Experience in Nineteenth-Century Women’s Writing, 68–83. Chicago, IL: Chicago University Press, 1968.

Jacobs, Carol. Uncontainable Romanticism: Shelley, Brontë, Kleist. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Jacobs, Naomi M. “Gender and Layered Narrative in Wuthering Heights and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.” In The Brontës, edited by Patricia Ingham. Great Britain: Longman, 2003.

Kavanagh, James. Emily Brontë. London: Blackwell, 1985.

Kermode, Frank. The Classic: Literary Images of Permanence and Change. New York: The Viking Press, 1975.

Kettle, Arnold. “Emily Brontë: Wuthering Heights.” In An Introduction to the English Novel, 130–145. 1951. New York: Harper, 1968.

Lenta, Margaret. “Capitalism or Patriarchy and Immoral Love: A Study of Wuthering Heights.” Theoria: A Journal of Studies in the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences 62 (1984): 63–76.

Lewis, Alexandra, ed. The Brontës and the Idea of the Human: Science, Ethics, and the Victorian Imagination. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019.

Lodge, Sara J. “Literary Influences on the Brontës.” In The Brontës in Context, edited by Marianne Thormälen, 143–150. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Marsden, Simon. Emily Brontë and the Religious Imagination. London: Bloomsbury, 2014.

Maynard, John R. “Poetry of Anne, Charlotte, and Emily.” In A Companion to the Brontës, edited by Diane Long Hoeveler and Deborah Denenholz Morse, 229–245. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons, 2016.

Miller, Joseph Hillis. Fiction and Repetition: Seven English Novels. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1982.

———. “The Ethics of Reading.” Style (1987): 181–191.

———. The Disappearance of God: Five Nineteenth Century Writers. 1965. Chicago: University of Illinois, 2000.

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Miller, Lucasta. The Brontë Myth. 2001. London: Vintage, 2002.

Mitchell, Juliet. Women, the Longest Revolution. Michigan: Pantheon Books, 1984.

Nussbaum, Martha. “Wuthering Heights: The Romantic Ascent.” Philosophy and Literature 20, no. 2 (1996): 362–382.

Pykett, Lyn. Women Writers: Emily Brontë. Maryland: Barnes and Noble, 1989.

Steinitz, Rebecca. “Diaries and Displacement in Wuthering Heights.” In The Brontës, edited by Patricia Ingham. Great Britain: Longman, 2003.

Stoneman, Patsy. “The Brontës and Death: Alternatives to Revolution.” In The Sociology of Literature, edited by F. Barker et al., Essex: University of Essex Press, 79–96, 1978.

———. “Introduction.” In Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë, vii–xli. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Thompson, Paul. The Reader’s Guide to Wuthering Heights. 2007, www.wuthering-heights.co.uk/index. Accessed May 14, 2020.

Thormählen, Marianne, ed. The Brontës in Context. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Ward, Ian. Law and the Brontës. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

Wilson, David. “Emily Brontë: First of the Moderns.” Moderns Quarterly Miscellany 1 (1947): 94–115.

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  Wuthering Heights: “The Housekeeper’s Tale”

“And indeed, my dear, I know not how to forbear writing …. I have now no other employment or diversion. And I must write on, altho’ I were not to send it to any-body.”

Samuel Richardson, Clarissa III, 221)

“To you I am neither a Man nor Woman—I come before you as an Author only—it is the sole standard by which you have a right to judge me—the sole ground on which I accept your judgement.”

(Charlotte Brontë, “To W.S. Williams, 16 August 1849,” Selected Letters 140)

In his enlightening book, Spirit Becomes Matter, Henry Staten makes what I think is a groundbreaking statement: “Wuthering Heights is as much the story of the self-assertion of this subaltern woman [Nelly]—a woman of tremendous vigour, resiliency and aggressivity—as it is the story of Heathcliff and Catherine” (151). Similarly, in Emily Brontë, James Kavanagh claims that “Nelly Dean is as important a character as Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, and in a crucial sense his true and effective antagonist” (31). Nelly is the most important narrator in the novel since she controls Lockwood’s narration and through him the reader’s diegetic experience of the text (Kavanagh 31). Judith Stuchiner points out that “[t]‌he fact that a member of the servant class, Nelly, shares the narration with a member ←59 | 60→of the bourgeoisie, Lockwood, is critical to the structure of Wuthering Heights” (191) and she argues that, by inserting Nelly’s inner narration within Lockwood’s outer narration, Brontë shows that Lockwood’s bourgeois perspective is pervaded by Nelly’s working-class perspective. Hence, Brontë frames the narration in her novel in order to “reenact the class struggle” (191). Indeed, Nelly’s authoritative narration rejects Spivak’s thesis that the subaltern, and more specifically the subaltern woman, cannot speak. According to Spivak, “these women are insufficiently represented or representable in that narration. We can docket them, but we cannot grasp them at all” (21).

That the subaltern woman can and does speak is a thesis that the American critic Bruce Robbins already articulates in his outstanding book, The Servant’s Hand: English Fiction from Below (1986). In this study, Robbins analyzes the role—and authoritative power—of servants as narrators in both eighteenth and nineteenth-century English fiction. The aim of this chapter is to read Wuthering Heights as “the house-keeper’s tale,” to decide whether there is still a deficiency in the Marxist approaches to this novel—which often focus on the historical revolts of Brontë’s time—and to examine the ethical implications that this reading entails. To support my arguments, I will employ Samuel Richardson’s Pamela, or, Virtue Rewarded as the intertext which best epitomizes the domestic context and which has a housekeeper as the narrator of the novel.1 Both narratives are presented as true stories. Pamela is probably the first novel in the English tradition that produces a reality effect and transmits this same effect on the reader: the novel as deception, hypnotic delusion, a lie dressed up as truth. Diderot seems to have learned this lesson from Richarson and wrote another outstanding first-person novel, La Religieuse. As Russell Goulbourne observes, “the novel could assert its validity as a genre by presenting itself as true and moral” (Goulbourne xxii).

In Origins of the English Novel: 16001740, McKeon mentions veracity as a key term in the evolution of the genre. Thus, long before the consolidation of the term “novel,” the dialectic confrontation was between the terms “romance” or “true history,” or between what is fictional or what is factual since, as John Nalson claimed, “History without Truth or with a mixture of Falsehood, degenerates into Romance” (qtd. in McKeon 27).2 Since the end of the seventeenth century, novelists were dissatisfied with the improbabilities of earlier fiction and wanted to gain greater popular and critical acclaim by asserting that their narratives were nothing but true (Goulbourne xxii). They dressed up their fictions as journals, histories, and memoirs. A first-person narrative like a journal or memoir is much more realistic than a third-person narrative. The most well-known French narratives before La Religieuse are Abate Prévost’s Manon Lescaut (1731) ←60 | 61→and Marivaux’s incomplete La Vie de Marianne (1731–1742) (Goulbourne xxii). All these first-person narrations start with a common device: they lay claim to honesty and ingenuousness and they deny any persuasive role (Goulbourne xxii). Thus, Suzanne, the protagonist of La Religieuse, lays claim to plausibility when she asserts that she is “writing with neither skill nor artifice, but with the naivety of a young person of my age and with my own native honesty” (3). This insistence on her youth occurs several times in the novel and is indeed a device to stress her naivety. However, this claim to naivety and ingenuousness is a deceitful way of enticing her intended reader—the Marquis de Croismare—and us (Goulbourne xxii).

Pamela employs the same resource as Suzanne: “She came to me: and I said, I am a poor unhappy young Body, that want your Advice and Assistance; and you seem to be a good sort of a Gentlewoman, that would assist an oppressed innocent Person” (107, emphasis added). In fact, she resorts to her youthfulness and innocence to persuade her intended listener and us readers: “Well, thought I, here are strange Pains taken to ruin a poor innocent, helpless, and even worthless young Body” (108, emphasis added). Likewise, Nelly is not the “cool spectator” (159) that she claims to be. She expresses her affections and hostilities in a direct and blunt manner and, in a modest way, she frequently takes part in the power struggles and hostile actions of the two families (Staten 167). Nelly is at the same time distanced from and involved in her narrative and this is precisely what makes Emily Brontë’s novel so sophisticated. Her strategy to persuade her listener and us readers is slightly different than Suzanne’s or Pamela’s. She does not resort to youth or innocence but to wisdom and culture: “I certainly esteem myself a steady, reasonable kind of body …. I have undergone sharp discipline, which has taught me wisdom; and then, I have read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood” (61). In selecting a housekeeper as the narrator of their novels, both Richardson and Brontë are making a social critique which has ethical implications since, as Robert Scholes has argued, the political enters in language through questions of representation: “who is represented, who does the representing, who is object, who is subject—and how do these representations connect to the values of groups, communities, classes, tribes, sects, and nations?” (Scholes 153).3

Delimitation of the Context: The Domestic Novel

In this first approach to the novel, I will frame Wuthering Heights within the context of domestic fiction inaugurated by Samuel Richardson’s Pamela. In ←61 | 62→Making the Novel: Fiction and Society in Britain, 16601789, Brean Hammond and Shaun Regan argue that in the last decades of the seventeenth century and the early decades of the eighteenth, writers were exploring new forms of narrativity, favouring the telling of domestic and contemporary stories. Thus, in theatre, the plots of comedies and tragedies change into a tragicomic blend which becomes more domestic and bourgeois. In poetry, writers such as Alexander Pope parody epic through the use of mock-epic. In The Rape of the Lock, the setting is completely domestic and the plot is that of courtship and rejection. The growing popularity of mock-epic poetry implies the reading public’s lack of interest in classical literature. This new mode of writing poetry degrades Virgilian and Homeric poetry. According to Hammond and Regan, “The Rape of the Lock is a prime example of the process of ‘novelization’ that we are outlining; of the gradual domestication of the literary agenda” (24). Card-playing, prostitution, duelling, master and servant etiquette, love marriages as opposed to marriages of convenience would become the subject matter of the amatory novel from the 1720s and sexual innuendoes would pullulate behind these topics (Hammond and Regan 24).

In Desire and Domestic Fiction, Nancy Armstrong asserts that the rise of the novel must be understood in terms of gender. She contends that the core of the novel is characterized by female structures of feeling. Thus, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries conduct and educational treatises and domestic novels created an idealized image of femininity based on emotional growth which replaced aristocratic values based on rank and fortune (Hammond and Regan 12). She argues that women’s domestic experience regarding love, sexual desire, courtship and marriage both promoted and was promoted by the novel. The prototypical desirable woman was then what Elaine Showalter called “the angel of the house,” a submissive woman, learned in the intricate world of feelings and with a maternal instinct which permits her to impart values to her children. For Armstrong, the novel both contributed and reflected this emergent cultural change (Hammond and Regan 12). Armstrong claims that Richardson was the inaugurator of the imaginary proposition that a wealthy man’s greatest ambition was to marry a woman who embodied domestic virtue (Armstrong, Desire 135). By Austen’s time, Armstrong asserts, “this proposition had acquired the status of truth” (135). Indeed, Armstrong’s claim finds its echo in Pride and Prejudice: “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man, in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (5). Richardson, Fanny Burney, Jane Austen, ←62 | 63→and William Thackeray’s heroines challenged the restrictions of family and social status by successfully committing mésalliance.

Margaret Anne Doody, in her groundbreaking The True Story of the Novel, disagrees with Armstrong’s contention that the domestication of the realistic novel is a matter only of gender and claims that class and race are also connected with this domestication (292). For Doody, one of the most remarkable aspects of the domestic realistic novel was “its ability to exclude” (The True Story 292) since it does not care about ethnic diversity and immigration and emigration are almost absent. She asserts that the reason why the novel becomes fully domestic is because it shuts out aliens. As an exception, she mentions George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda (1876), which includes Jewish characters, and points out that Eliot was irritated enough with realism to sacrifice some of its conventions. In Lettres Persanes (1721), Montesquieu also experimented with conventions and created Muslim narrations who, however, had Western attitudes (Doody, The True Story 293). In his introduction to the fifteenth anniversary edition to The Origins of the English Novel, 16001740, Michael McKeon claims that the domestic novel emerges out of the status inconsistency that started to prevail in late seventeenth and early eighteenth-century England (27): “[w]‌omen and men still tend to see themselves in terms of their social, political, and legal status more than in terms of their sexual being” (27).

McKeon asserts that Fielding’s indignation at Pamela has to do with the social disarray that miscegenation entails and not with gender issues. Thus, in Joseph Andrews, Fielding cleverly changes the sex of the protagonist in order not to imply that the case of women entails some kind of inconsistency (McKeon 27). Feminism is only emergent at this time and it is social status what gives ideological flavour to the early novel. Before the 1740s, the question of virtue is addressed in social rather than sexual terms because English culture still tended to incorporate the sexual within the social (McKeon 29). For his part, John Richetti, in The English Novel in History, 17001789, contends that the realist novel is characterized by socio-historical determinism. He states that Richardson’s characters are deliberately ingrained in local socio-historical and economic conditions rather than derived from some mysterious and extra-historical essence (8). According to Richetti, “novelistic specificity focuses on social relationships that promote self-awareness in characters balanced (or torn) between individualism and communal identity” (8). Characters are then both socially determined and individually defined.

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Formal Questions

“The great man is no longer the one who creates truth; he is the one who knows how best to reconcile falsehood with truth”

(Dennis Diderot, Salon of 1767)

In Pamela in the Marketplace: Literary Controversy and Print Culture in Eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland (2005), Thomas Keymer and Peter Sabor remark that “the publication of Pamela not only established a compelling prototype for the domestic, epistolary and psychological fiction of the decades to come” (4). The third edition of the novel sold 3,000 copies within two months and turned the novel into “one of the century’s best sellers” (qtd. in Keymer 5). Richardson’s aim in Pamela was to “introduce a new species of writing,” what he would later call “writing to the moment,” a present-time immediacy which he also employs in Clarissa, which Fielding would later ridicule in Shamela, and which Charlotte Brontë would also include in Jane Eyre, which is structurally very similar to Pamela (Carroll, Selected Letters 41).4 Richardson’s story of social mobility and transgressive marriage provoked a strain of criticism about gender and class (Keymer and Sabor 5).

By locating virtue in a sevant, avowing the spiritual equality of servants and aristocracy, and “inserting this servant into the social elite as an agent of reformation,” Richardson’s novel disrupted hierarchical assumptions and became “an instinctive touchstone for decades when any question of marital misalliance came up” (Keymer and Sabor 6). Indeed, what really bothered Fielding was Richardson’s subversive decision to eschew classical literary decorum in making a low and supposedly ungrammatical female the heroine and narrator of the novel. Fielding’s Shamela was Pamela’s most popular counter-fiction, belonging to the class of books that “borrow from, comment on and pay homage to, but also parody and subvert their fictional precursor” (Keymer and Sabor 83). As Margaret Ann Doody puts it, “Shamela shows what a revolutionary book Pamela could seem” (Doody, A Natural Passion 74).5 Pamela became then “a site of contestation,” in which some of the most pressing conflicts and concerns of its time can now be perceived (Keymer and Sabor 10). Through his epistolary technique, Richardson ventriloquized a rich variety of characters, most of them belonging to the upper strata of eighteenth-century social scale, although he also ventures to give voice to members of the lower strata.

The letter is “as old as the art of writing” and, as Jacques Derrida has suggested, “the essence of literature itself” (qtd. in Rudnik-Smalbraak 18). What is ←64 | 65→distinctive in Richardson’s novels is his capacity to convey the universal problems of love. Since Ovid’s Heroides, the representation of women has always been associated with suffering. In a state of intense suffering, the lonely woman finds as her only confidant the piece of paper: her sorrow has earned her the right to speak (Rudnik-Smaalbraak 18). In Samuel Richardson: Dramatic Novelist, Mark Kinkead-Weekes goes so far as to claim that “Richardson is the pioneer of ‘point of view’ fiction” (397). Thus, the author formally banishes himself and becomes each of his characters but the reader finds it difficult to identify him with any of them. In order to get an overall understanding of the characters, Kinkead-Weekes asserts, we readers have to enter the points of view of all them. However, no single point of view is reliable and we need to read between the lines to discover their genuine intentions (397).

For Richetti, Richardson’s remarkable novelty lies in his extraordinary capacity “to immerse this large cast of characters in a minutely rendered, densely articulated world of social and economic circumstances” (100). Pamela has a lot of what Rousseau would later call amour de soi-même, an instinctive self-esteem which allows her to refuse Mr. B.’s vexations and, consequently, to overlook the realities of social rank and gender identities with the conviction that she is being faithful to her inner self, an idea that Rousseau would later express in the Discourse on Inequality: “I entreat you all to look into the depths of your hearts, and to heed the secret voice of conscience” (8). For Richetti, Pamela’s originality lies in its protagonist’s rejection of “sociohistorical inevitability” and restrictive gender categories and in her self-conscious portrayal of moral and social roles. Pamela thus offers the expression of an individual within a rigid social realm; hence, the social and the individual spheres are interrelated and animate one another (Richetti 87).

Despite her more traditional omniscient narrators, Jane Austen, through recurrent free-indirect-discourse, also selects a rich variety of characters as focalizers of the action. Although in most of her novels she frequently favours the voice of polite country people, Austen does enact a social transgression in Mansfield Park (1814) by allowing Fanny Price, who has an unsafe social position in the family, to become the best critic of the social theatricals which, both literarily and symbolically, take place in the organic communities around her: “… but I am more sorry to see you drawn in to do what you had resolved against, and what you are known to think will be disagreeable to my uncle. It will be such a triumph to others!” (122). Although Fanny Price does not have a predisposition towards alterity, like Pamela and Nelly, she does constitute an alterity figure. In fact, Fanny, like Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, somehow threatens and ←65 | 66→destabilizes the organic communities of blood, birth, social status and genealogy of the Bertram family. Like Heathcliff, Fanny embodies status inconsistency since she is charitably admitted in the house as a kind of handy servant who is always ready to help—we cannot forget that both Mrs. Norris and Mrs. Bertram “found her very handy and quick in carrying messages, and fetching what she wanted” (20).

Although Fanny Price is one of the weakest and most helpless of Jane Austen’s heroines, she is the only character in the novel who shows enough independence of mind and who dares to contest the authority of the master of the house. Thus, Fanny is responsible for the three greatest speech acts of refusal in the novel: she absolutely refuses to take part in Lovers’ Vows; she resolutely says “NO” to Henry’s marriage proposals, and she repeats her negation in front of the “chief guardian,” Sir Thomas (Tanner 151). In this sense, Fanny can be equated to one of Austen’s most self-determining heroines, Lizzy Bennet, and to Pamela and Jane Eyre.

In Vanity Fair, published in the same year as Wuthering Heights, 1848, William Thackeray chooses a heroine with self-determination and autonomy, what Leslie Fiedler calls “the lady with the whip.” Rebecca Sharp is a cunning woman who “never was known to have done a good action in behalf of anybody” (15). Becky is not the narrator of the novel; the novel is indeed characterized by having a quite intrusive narrator who also plays the role of commentator. Despite this, it is clear in several passages that the sympathy of the narrator is with Becky, as we can see in this passage where the narrator condescends Becky because, despite her cunning, she is still an inexperienced girl:

But we must remember that she is but nineteen as yet, unused to the art of deceiving, poor innocent creature! and making her own experience in her own person. The meaning of the above series of queries, as translated in the heart of this ingenious young woman, was simply this: “If Mr. Joseph Sedley is rich and unmarried, why should I not marry him? I have only a fortnight, to be sure, but there is no harm in trying.” And she determined within herself to make this laudable attempt. (VF 23)

Becky is indeed an updated Shamela who resorts to a Pamela-like subterfuge of innocence and naivety to rise socially. Being alone in the world, Becky tries to secure her future by seducing Jos Sedley but her attempts fail. However, she does not surrender and she gets a place as a governess in the house of a decadent aristocratic family. There, she marries one of the sons of the family, Rawdon Crawley. Becky is the perfect example of what Robbins calls “a social climber” ←66 | 67→(“A Portrait” 409). “I must be my own mamma” (105), she says at the beginning of the novel. Unlike Pamela—who always resort to ingenuousness—Becky discloses her genuine intentions and motivations; she has never been innocent but she has always been “sharp.” Thus, although Becky, unlike Pamela or Nelly, is not the narrator of the novel, we can see several times in the novel how Thackeray’s voice stands behind hers and how her perspective pervades the narration.

Nelly’s voice is also the governing one in Wuthering Heights. Her role as participant narrator in the novel is probably one of the most complex and fascinating issues in Wuthering Heights, as we can see when Nelly narrates Heathcliff’s entrance into the house:

They entirely refused to have it in bed with them, or even in their room, and I had no more sense, so I put it on the landing of the stairs, hoping that it might be gone on the morrow. By chance, or else attracted by hearing his voice, it crept to Mr. Earnshaw’s door, and there he found it on quitting his chamber. Inquiries were made as to how it got there; I was obliged to confess, and in recompense for my cowardice and inhumanity was sent out of the house. (35–36, emphasis added)

This incident perfectly exemplifies Nelly Dean’s part of responsibility in some of the most crucial events in the novel. Nelly admits here her complicity in the abuse that Heathcliff receives upon his arrival at the house, but she does so in such a tacit manner that she seems less responsible for the affair than Hindley and Catherine. Her contempt is somehow logical and understandable. Nelly certainly values her privileged position in the Earnshaw family. She is distrustful about this newcomer who intrudes in the house, and acts with significant independence and craftiness to protect her position (Kavanagh 34). Later on in the novel, when Edgar Linton rebukes Nelly for not having informed him of Catherine’s pitiable condition—another significant incident—Catherine voices what is probably the most direct indictment of treachery and deceitfulness against Nelly: “Ah! Nelly has played the traitor … Nelly is my hidden enemy—you witch! So you do seek elf-bolts to hurt us!” (129). Her narrative control is devious and diffident, “an invisible hand to whose manipulations Lockwood, and by extension the reader, must, and are usually pleased to, submit” (Kavanagh 35). Whereas Heathcliff catalyzes his anarchic social and libidinal violence, Nelly Dean imposes on the discourse “an implacable sadism of control” (35).

Nelly’s role as both narrator and participant has attracted wide critical attention in the second half of the twentieth century and in contemporary criticism. In one of the earliest and most influential essays dedicated to her persona, “The Villain in Wuthering Heights,” Hafley crowns Nelly as “one of the consummate ←67 | 68→villains in English literature” (Hafley 199) and compares her to Shakespeare’s Iago. More recently, Elizabeth Langland (2012) asserts that Nelly’s “conventional approach … seriously limits her ability to understand the tale she tells” (298). However, I would like to suggest that Nelly functions as a Geheimnisträger, a secret-bearer who extracts everybody’s confessions. This can be observed in Nelly and Catherine’s most intimate conversation, when Catherine reveals to Nelly that she and Edgar Linton are engaged. Catherine wants to entrust Nelly with her secret and she asks her: “… will you keep a secret for me?” (77). Thus, Nelly becomes the sharer of Catherine’s secret and she is implicitly put in the position of judge or jury: “… I want to know what I should do. To-day, Edgar Linton has asked me to marry him, and I’ve given him an answer. Now, before I tell you whether it was a consent or denial, you tell me which it ought to have been” (emphasis added, 77). Catherine even imposes her confessions and secrets to Nelly, who is sometimes reluctant to bear and guard certain information, as when Catherine insists on telling Nelly her famous dream and she refuses to listen: “I won’t hear it! I won’t hear it!” (91). In this case, Nelly relinquishes the imposed role of Geheimnisträger, and she makes it clear when she threatens Catherine with the following warning: “But trouble me with no more secrets: I’ll not promise to keep them” (82). Thus, Nelly is given privileged access to her mistress’ most private secrets and feelings.

But Nelly’s role as the Geheimnisträger of the family is not always imposed by the characters’s remorseful urge for confession. According to Tytler, reliance on servants for help in non-domestic affairs goes from being used as messengers to being resorted to for help in different household crises (231). Sometimes it is the master of the house, Hindley, who orders Nelly to act as a chaperone and to surveil Linton and Catherine’s private conversations at Wuthering Heights. This is just an instance of the masters’ dependency on the cooperation of their servants to exert authority efficiently (Tytler 230). In this case, Nelly functions as an agent of surveillance, performing a policing function in the home and eavesdropping the secret conversations of the lovers: “Mr. Hindley had given me directions to make a third party in any private visits Linton chose to pay” (70).6 Catherine reacts against this encroachment of her privacy scolding and even slapping her: “Take yourself and your dusters off; when company are in the house, servants don’t commence scouring and cleaning in the room where they are!” (70). Later on, Nelly even ventures to exercise judgement on Catherine’s hysterical behaviour and when she asks her whether she should have accepted Edgar’s proposal, Nelly wittingly answers: “To be sure, considering the exhibition you performed in his ←68 | 69→presence this afternoon, I might say it would be wise to refuse him: since he asked you after that, he must either be hopelessly stupid or a venturesome fool” (77).

In a scene which reminds us to Mr. B’s interception of Pamela’s letters, Nelly, reversing the social situation in Pamela and acting like a kind of female and servant version of Mr. B, peeps at the second Cathy’s most concealed and intimate secrets, which were articulated in her love letters to Linton:

My curiosity and suspicions were roused; I determined to take a peep at her mysterious treasures; so, at night, as soon as she and my master were safe upstairs, I searched, and readily found among my house keys one that would fit the lock. Having opened, I emptied the whole contents into my apron, and took them with me to examine at leisure in my own chamber. Though I could not but suspect, I was still surprised to discover that they were a mass of correspondence—daily almost, it must have been—from Linton Heathcliff: answers to documents forwarded by her. (225)

Nelly threatens Cathy with showing the letters to her father: “And what do you suppose the master will think when I display it before him? I haven’t shown it yet, but you needn’t imagine I shall keep your ridiculous secrets” (227, emphasis added). However, she submits to Cathy’s entreaties to burn the letters and conceal them from Mr. Linton. Tellingly, as she did with her mother, Nelly deliberately becomes Cathy’s Geheimnisträger, acquiring, once more, a position of moral authority over her mistress.7 Thus, surveillance in the kitchen inevitably subverts upper-class authority in the parlour. Nelly re-enacts her role as Geheimnisträger after Heathcliff’s death, when she refrains from telling Mr. Kenneth of Heathcliff’s self-willed fasting so that he can be buried in the precincts of the kirk: “I concealed the fact of his having swallowed nothing for four days, fearing it might lead to trouble ….” (336). Once more, through her role as Geheimnisträger, Nelly alters the development of the events.

It is through Nelly’s focalized narration that we can listen to many other voices. Her narrative, like that of Pamela, is polyphonic, since it includes a diversity of points of view. Lyn Pykett goes so far as to claim that, despite her sympathy of attention and her inclusiveness of detail and perspective, Nelly has a “self-confessed lack of sympathy” (108). I cannot totally agree with this severe contention since, even if she censures the words or behaviour of most of the characters at some point in the novel, Nelly also shows understanding and compassion at other moments. In fact, she shows sympathy with Heathcliff several times in the novel—a sympathy based in part on their common position as servants:

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Nelly also demonstrates compassion when she has to communicate Catherine’s death to Heathcliff: “I was weeping as much for him as her: we do sometimes pity creatures that have none of the feeling either for themselves or others” (166). In mythological terms, Nelly would be the Ariadne who begins to sew the moment she starts to narrate her story. In Fernandez’s own words: “Her narrational acts are the weavings of a secretly knowledgeable, if socially invisible practitioner of the craft of storytelling that transpires out of sight from her unsuspecting masters and mistresses” (64). Her conventionality and unobtrusiveness make her the perfect narrator. As Pykett puts it, her modest and other-directed narrative is partly a function of gender and partly a function of her social position, that of a servant. She is for the most part a “passive spectator who witnesses the active lives of others” (Pykett 101). Like Pamela’s or Suzanne’s voice in La Religieuse, Nelly’s voice is both naïve and well-informed, a character in whom there is a disconcerting and ironic combination of seeming innocence and satirical insight (Goulbourne XXVIII).

This satirical insight is especially flagrant in her conversations with Catherine, as when the latter asks her whether she should marry Edgar Linton and Nelly replies in such a bold and ironic manner: “To be sure, considering the exhibition you performed in his presence this afternoon, I might say it would be wise to refuse him: since he asked you after that, he must be either hopelessly stupid or a venturesome fool” (77). Her satirical stance is sometimes concealed behind apparent candour as when she admits to Lockwood that “[w]‌e don’t in general take to foreigners here, Mr. Lockwood, unless they take to us first” (43). Although she is not referring to Heathcliff—she is talking here about Frances, Hindley’s foreign wife—the remark echoes the way the family—and herself—have (un)welcomed Heathcliff in the house as well as betrays her pride in belonging to the Earnshaw family.

Contemporary criticism has tended to distrust what Wayne Booth has called an “unambiguous bestowal of authority” (18) upon a narrator, and this suspicion ←70 | 71→has reached Nelly Dean. Debates about the veracity of her narration and the sincerity of her motivations are in vogue in contemporary discussions of Wuthering Heights. Social inequality always entails a structural deception: “you get truth habitually from equals only,” says Thackeray in The Roundabout Papers (149). There is a significant passage in which Nelly betrays her scheming and manipulative control of the narration. When she accompanies Cathy to see her cousin, Linton Heathcliff, Nelly—in her role of Geheimnisträger—refrains from informing her master, Edgar Linton, about this excursion: “My master requested an account of our ongoings. His nephew’s offering of thanks was duly delivered, Miss Cathy gently touching on the rest: I also threw little light on his inquires, for I hardly knew what to hide and what to reveal” (264). After that, she displays her patronizing attitude by concealing information from her master:

He had a fixed idea, I guessed by several observations he let fall, that, as his nephew resembled him in person, he would resemble him in mind; for Linton’s letters bore few or no indications of his defective character. And I, through pardonable weakness, refrained from correcting the error; asking myself what good there would be in disturbing his last moments with information that he had neither power nor opportunity to turn to account. (265, emphasis added)

“Where we see that a man has the power,” says Maria Edgeworth, “we may naturally suspect that he has the will to deceive us” (Castle Rackrent 2). It is not farfetched to think that if Nelly conceals, reveals or refrains from informing her master about her whereabouts, she might also conceal, reveal or refrain from informing her main listener, Lockwood, or us, the readers. We are “still haunted with the shadow of something she had not told [us]” (James, The Turn of the Screw 27). Through first-person narration, the maidservant-narrator is a holder of power, and not only is she narrator, but also an instigator of the action.

Similarly, although Richardson presents Pamela as a paragon of virtue, readers have only to read behind the lines in order to ascertain Pamela’s hypocrisy and self-interest. According to Jens Brockmeier, “narrative empowers individuals because it affords them the possibility to control their identity by choosing strategically what gets recounted (and who, and to whom) in the stories about themselves” (1219). Thus, individuals can actively shape their narrative identity in “the social circulation of representations of themselves” (1219). Pamela knows this and by trying to represent herself as an honest, modest and naïf servant who tries to avoid his master’s sexual advances, she ironically discloses that she is actually an arriviste. However, as David Daiches says, “[t]‌he fact that she irritates readers, that they disagree about her, that one can accuse her of hypocrisy is a ←71 | 72→sure sign of life” (qtd. in Duncan and Kimpel 103). Suzanne, the protagonist of Diderot’s La Religieuse (1796), which was deeply influenced by Richardson’s epistolary novels, also masters the arts of rhetoric and persuasion. Her narrative encourages us to empathize with her sufferings and to be persuaded by her case. Although she claims to be innocent and naïve, she sometimes demonstrates self-awareness: “I have a touching appearance; the intense pain I had experienced had altered it but had not robbed it of any of its character. The sound of my voice also touches people, and they feel that when I speak, I am telling the truth” (112). She even goes further than Pamela and recognizes an element of dishonesty in her self-presentation:

I have realized that, though it was utterly unintentional, I had in each line shown myself to be as unhappy as I really was, but also much nicer than I really am. Could it be that we believe men to be less sensitive to the depiction of our suffering than to the image of our charms, and do we hope that it is much easier to seduce them than it is to touch their hearts? (Diderot 152)

Through the devices of first-person narrative, both Suzanne and Pamela present themselves as inexperienced young girls but the effect is that of studied manipulation and seduction. Neither Richardson nor Diderot resolve this contradiction. Nelly, on her part, does not have recourse to inexperience but to literacy and wisdom—“I certainly esteem myself a steady, reasonable kind of body” (61).9 I think that we can apply both to Pamela and Wuthering Heights what Goulbourne says of Diderot in his introduction to La Religieuse, that his aesthetic effect relies on the illusion of reality being devotedly created and then dramatically dismantled (Goulbourne xxxiii). They have demonstrated, in a Sternian manner, how easily readers can be fooled by the manoeuvres of the work of fiction (Goulbourne xxxiii). Indeed, one of the reasons that the rogue always resorts to first-person narration is to generate more intimacy with the reader. As the narrator of Diderot’s The Two Friends from Bourbonne states at the end of his tale, the narrator of the historical tale must satisfy “two apparently contradictory demands”: “to be one and the same time a historian and a poet, a truth-teller and a liar” (qtd. in Goulbourne xxxiii). I think that it is precisely this structural ambivalence between narrator and deceiver that makes them so fascinating and challenging. The confrontation with these unreliable narrators has also ethical implications since they may cause the readers to question their own values and principles. Even if they are not always impartial and have their limitations, the fact that they can engage our sympathy makes them difficult to condemn.

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Both the diaristic style of Wuthering Heights and the epistolary style of Pamela or La Religieuse cancel the authorial voice of the omniscient narrator, which for Eagleton means that there is no metanarrative, no Austenesque narrator to guide our reading and to explain or apologize (Eagleton, The English Novel 71). Instead, we have a never-ending exchange of letters which almost acquire a fetishistic life of their own in Pamela (Eagleton, The English Novel 71) or a sequence of transmissions in a patchwork of embedded stories, letters, and diaries within diaries in Wuthering Heights. It is a sequence of transmissions which goes from genetic sources to putative substitutes and from oral narratives to written ones. These letters and diaries are revenants from the past, “frozen in permanent resurrection” (Miller, Literature as Conduct 274). All this polyphony and this patchwork of material signs are framed by Pamela and Nelly Dean, respectively, two maidservants who belong to the outskirts of society. However, neither of them speaks as an actual maidservant would speak. Mathison tries to justify this incongruence through the assertion that Nelly is showing off her sophistication in order to impress Lockwood (Mathison 116). Nevertheless, the truth is that, contrary to what she did with Joseph, Brontë did not know how to differentiate Nelly Dean from the rest of the lower-class characters and she tried to supply this deficiency by gentrifying Nelly. Thus, whereas Pamela employs a polite and formal language assorted with witty colloquial expressions, Lockwood says of Nelly that

[e]‌xcepting a few provincialisms of slight consequence, you have no marks of the manners that I am habituated to consider as peculiar to your class. I am sure you have thought a great deal more than the generality of servants think. You have been compelled to cultivate your reflective faculties, for want of occasions for frittering your life away in silly trifles. (61)

Brontë’s strategy to compensate for Nelly’s cultivated speech is probably to make her a voracious reader: “I have read more than you would fancy, Mr. Lockwood. You could not open a book in this library that I have not looked into, and got something out of also” (61). According to Regina Barreca, in Wuthering Heights, the power to write and speak is an indicator of women’s power. Thus, the female characters are not the objects of the discourse but the subject: “They challenge the male characters by creating texts that exist in opposition to the prevailing ideology” (229).

In the preface to Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent (1800), an external narrator discharges the “measure prose” of heroic romance, and supports a narrative that registers the irregular speeches of real characters:

←73 |

We cannot judge either of the feelings of the characters of men with perfect accuracy from their action or their appearances in public; it is from their careless conversations, their half-finished sentences, that we may hope with the greatest probability of success to discover their real characters. (Edgeworth I)

According to Jiménez Heffernan, for Edgeworth, social realism demanded fidelity to speech such as imperfect dialogue, and broken conversations (“The Phonetic Archive” 235). This was one of the most important innovations in prose fiction since it conveyed a sense of immediacy that had only been exclusive of drama.10

Thus, whereas Edgeworth makes her characters speak according to their social class, Brontë, in the case of Nelly, favoured a domestication of her voice, however strongly she invested in the phonetic subversion of Joseph.11 Nelly’s focalized narration and her gusto in superstitions, however, gives her tale a popular flavour which favours the ethos of romance transmitted by oral tradition.12 Pamela, like Nelly, is equally fond of reading since her Lady has acted as a benefactor—a similar role to that which Cathy II plays with Hareton—and has introduced her to the world of literature. Indeed, reading books creates an atmosphere of intimacy between Pamela and Mrs. Jervis: “… She takes Delight to hear me read to her; and all she loves to hear read, is good Books, which we read whenever we are alone” (17). As Nancy Armstrong argues, “[i]‌t is literacy alone that transforms [Pamela] from an object [Mr. B] can forcibly possess into a self-possessed subject” (43). Therefore, whereas Nelly remains in her position of social subalternity, Pamela ascends into the gentry, becoming a submissive housewife whose language “sinks beneath Richardson’s own” (Eagleton, The English Novel 75). But in both cases, reading, writing, and speaking are forms of “engendered” communication that challenge the sacredness of the social and domestic order. Women’s narratives in these texts are concerned with control and with the determination to raise their voice or to possess the page, two acts that represent power.13

As I said in the Overview, David Wilson (1947), Arnold Kettle (1951), and Terry Eagleton (1975) focus on the historical oppositions between the two houses, Wuthering Heights, where the Earnshaws own the land which they work themselves, and Thrushcross Grange, where the genteel Lintons live off their rents. More recent criticism has paid attention to issues of class and gender in the fiction by the Brontës. Jean Fernandez (2010), Ian Ward (2012), Elizabeth Langland (2012), Tara MacDonald (2016), examine how issues of class status, gender and legality were deterministic in the mid-Victorian period and how these issues affect events and characters in the Brontës’ fiction. Taking Fernandez’s reading aside, what most materialist readings of the novel have failed to notice ←74 | 75→is that, in such a conservative novel as this one—conservative in as much as the only possible solution which the author allows for Catherine and Heathcliff is death—the most revolutionary aspect connects Marxism with narratology: it is rare and fairly uncommon that a character of the lower class is permitted to tell the story in Victorian literature, and it is the first time that a servant-girl does it.14

In my view, Brontë’s decision to tell the story through the voice of Nelly implies a Christian confraternity which has its own performative efficacy, since not only does Nelly listen, talk and give voice to all the characters in the novel, she also advises, rebukes, and consoles them. If we read Nelly as a “surrogate-parent servant figure” (Fernandez 47), episodes like Catherine’s and Nelly’s famous conversation about love acquire new light: “… I must let it out! I want to know what I should do. To-day, Edgar Linton has asked me to marry him, and I’ve given him an answer. Now, before I tell you whether it was a consent or denial, you tell me which it ought to have been” (77). It is one of the first times in Victorian literature that we find such a violation of the social device.15 Her intimacy with Catherine as a result of having been raised together results in the partial obliteration of the formal boundaries between master and servant and, while Nelly usually obeys Catherine, she also scolds her with a familiarity that an ordinary servant could not (Staten 152).

The servant-narrator has acquired authority. In this sense, the novel acquires a picaresque pedigree which can only be found in many eighteenth-century novels (Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Caleb Williams, Castle Rackrent …), Pamela being the most significant. In her role of counsellor and advisor of both Catherine and Heathcliff—or in her role of Geheimnisträger of the household—Nelly Dean, like Pamela and Fanny Price, occupies both a position of social subalternity and moral authority. This moral authority generates anxieties about the instability of class identities that threaten the Victorian household (Fernandez 62).

Having acquired literacy, Nelly both imitates and re-appropriates the culture of the middle-class (Fernandez 54). She is at the same time authoritative and subordinate, outsider and insider, nurturer and tyrant, exemplifying the fluctuating boundaries of class within the Victorian household (Fernandez 56). In selecting this female subaltern speech as narrator, Brontë is performing a social subversion which shapes the sociological ethics of the novel, advocating thus for the social emancipation of the lower middle class. Nelly Dean’s uncertain social status is of crucial significance in a world increasingly preoccupied by the instability and reversibility of social identities (Fernandez 57).

According to what Lawrence Stone has called “the companionate marriage,” the woman gives up political control to the male in order to obtain exclusive ←75 | 76→authority over domestic life, morality, emotions and taste (Armstrong, Desire 41). Only this authority, which is moral, has the power of really reforming the conduct (Jiménez Heffernan, “Pamela’s Hands” 35). This accounts for Pamela’s more submissive conduct in the second part of the novel. In the case of Nelly, although she never marries—at least during the action of the novel—she does relegate political power to her masters while she always maintains moral authority. Like Pamela and Fanny, Nelly has an unclear political position in the Earnshaw’s house. She is not biologically or legally related to anyone in the house but she is indeed a “ ‘relative creature,’ defined by her position within a system of family relationships as daughter, sister, wife or mother” (Pykett 104).

Nelly occupies most of these positions simultaneously, representing the situation of many real Victorian families, including Emily Brontë’s, in which daughters and sisters were required to replace dead mothers (Pykett 104). She is allowed to sit with the family and she develops a kind of kinship with the children. This becomes evident when Nelly receives the news of Hindley’s death: “ancient associations lingered round my heart; I sat down in the porch and wept as for a blood relation” (184). After that, she calls Hindley his “foster brother.” Similarly, at the end of Mansfield Park, Sir Thomas reflects that Fanny “was indeed the daughter that he wanted” (371) since she had steady principles and a sober temper. Indeed, Fanny Price becomes the “spiritual mistress of Mansfield Park” (Said, Culture 101), the best judge of parental mismanagement and the most judicious critic of the social theatricals that develop around her.

Like Nelly, Pamela also has a position of social subalternity but moral authority after her Lady’s death (Jiménez Heffernan, “Pamela’s Hands” 39) and it is precisely this position of moral authority—which she displays in her letters—what permits her to reform Mr. B.:

He put the Papers in his Pocket, when he had read my Reflections, and Thanks for escaping from myself; and said, taking me about the Waist, O my dear Girl! You have touched me sensibly with your mournful Relation, and your sweet Reflections upon it. I should truly have been very miserable had it taken Effect. I see you have been used too roughly; and it is a Mercy you stood Proof in that fatal Moment. (241)

On her part, Nelly’s moral authority is never more blatant than when Catherine asks her if she should marry Edgar Linton. Like Lizzy Bennet, Catherine knows for sure that “the authority of a servant … was not to be hastily rejected” (Pride and Prejudice 215). Nelly warns her that Heathcliff will be extremely ←76 | 77→miserable: “… and if you are his choice, he’ll be the most unfortunate creature that ever was born! As soon as you become Mrs. Linton, he loses friend, and love, and all! Have you considered how you’ll bear the separation, and how he’ll bear to be quite deserted in the world?” (81). When Catherine replies that she plans to help Heathcliff with Edgar’s money, Nelly rebukes her harshly: “If I can make any sense of your nonsense, Miss …. it only goes to convince me that you are ignorant of the duties you undertake in marrying; or else that you are a wicked, unprincipled girl. But trouble me with no more secrets: I’ll not promise to keep them” (82). The originality of both novels lies then in “the vocal enactment of a social transgression” (Jiménez Heffernan, “The Phonetic Archive” 235) since the subaltern can speak and indeed does speak. This phonetic rebellion suggests a social subversion and an act of political assertion. “If God does not exist,” says Dostoevsky, “everything is permitted.” In the world of the nineteenth century, where “the great disembedding” takes place, status inconsistency reigns, and the middle class raises triumphant, the novel is a revolutionary genre and its only rule is not to have rules (Eagleton, The English Novel 2).

Ethical Implications

“Ideally, we lose ourselves in what we read, only to return to ourselves, transformed and part of a more expansive world. In short, we become more critical and more capacious in our thinking and our acting”

(Judith Butler, “What value do the humanities have?”)16

There is of course no intrinsic connection between narrative techniques and ethical implications, but we can agree that this connection is not totally unintentional: different perspectives are always made by using specific techniques. Thus, we should ask ourselves why a given narrative uses the strategies it uses rather than different ones. This violation of the social device in both Pamela and Wuthering Heights has its own ethical implications. In The Political Unconscious, Jameson asserts that form is “immanently and intrinsically an ideology in its own right” (141):

What must now be stressed is that at this level “form” is apprehended as content. The study of ideology of form is no doubt grounded on a technical and formalistic analysis in the narrowest sense, even though, unlike much traditional formal analysis, it seeks to reveal the active presence within the text of a number of discontinuous and heterogeneous formal processes. But at the level of analysis in ←77 | 78→question here, a dialectical reversal has taken place in which it has become possible to grasp such formal processes as sedimented content in their own right, as carrying ideological messages of their own, distinct form the ostensible or manifest content of the works. (Jameson 99)

There is indeed an intersection between form and content which may have manifold and unpredictable ideological effects that can be reproduced, contested, or appropriated by the text. This groundbreaking narrative device will definitely shape the sociological ethics of the novel. These dialogic narratives accentuate their performative quality since they help to shape notions of identity and alterity or otherness: “Through narrative, the strange and the familiar achieve a working relationship” (Shore 58).

My contention is that both Richardson and Brontë bring to the fore the perspectives that social hegemonic discourses have silenced and which have a subterranean existence in society: the discourse of those “others” which lurk in the kitchen and also inhabit the home; those whom John Ruskin called the “unknown, unloved, or hostile society of the outer world.”17 Richardson and Brontë insurrect what Foucault calls subjugated knowledges. These subjugated knowledges are not only a mass of historical knowledges that were masked but

a whole series of knowledges that have been disqualified as nonconceptual knowledges, as insufficiently elaborated knowledges: naive knowledges, hierarchically inferior knowledges, knowledges that are below the required level of erudition or scientificity. And it is thanks to the reappearance of these knowledges from below, of these unqualified or even disqualified knowledges, it is thanks to the reappearance of these knowledges: the knowledge of the psychiatrized, the patient, the nurse, the doctor, that is parallel to, marginal to, medical knowledge, the knowledge of the delinquent, what I would call, if you like, what people know (and this is by no means the same thing as common knowledge or common sense but, on the contrary, a particular knowledge, a knowledge that is local, regional, or differential, incapable of unanimity and which derives its power solely from the fact that it is different from all the knowledges that surround it), it is the reappearance of what people know at a local level, of these disqualified knowledges, that made the critique possible. (Foucault 7–8)

These subjugated knowledges are insurrected through female subaltern speech, which “is even more deeply in shadow” (Spivak 41). They lack social pedigree and are hierarchically inferior since they suffer a pervasive social exclusion. They are “knowledges from below” (Foucault 7). The discourses of both Pamela and Nelly Dean constitute a counterhistory, that is, the dark histories of those peoples who ←78 | 79→speak “from the side that is in darkness, from within the shadows” (Foucault 70) and they are guided by what Foucault calls “the principle of heterogeneity,” and which has the following effect: “It will be learned that one man’s victory is another man’s defeat …. What looks like right, law, or obligation form the point of view of power looks like the abuse of power, violence, and exaction when it is seen from the viewpoint of the new discourse” (Foucault 69–70).

Apart from this, the heterogeneity of points of view is reflected in the polyphony of voices and material signs like letters or diaries that are entrenched in both novels, giving us readers the benefit of listening to different, and sometimes contradicting, perspectives that interact with mainstream ones. But, although they lodge a plurality of letters and discourses, both Wuthering Heights and Pamela contain a dominant voice; that of Nelly Dean and Pamela, respectively. They are privileged voices in which other discourses find their liberation. Therefore, their enormous sympathy of attention implies that no single participant can control entirely the course of the story, “and multiple voices vie for the right to formulate its point” (Norrick 128). This multiplicity of voices allows for the entrance of the other. As Derrida puts it, “l’autre appelle à venir et cela n’arrive qu’à plusieurs voix” [“the other calls something to come and that does not happen except in multiple voices”] (qtd. in Miller, Others 1). If we think of these narrative voices from the perspective of the characters, it is as if they were spied; as if they were haunted by a ghost. They ignore this invisible presence while it is present in their private conversations and eavesdrops their most secret feelings and thoughts. This presence makes those secrets public by verbalizing them so that any reader can know and judge them … or not (Miller, Literature as Conduct 273). Contrary to most Victorian novels that followed the maxim of the “just distribution of sympathy,” that is, heroes being presented in a favourable light whereas villains are presented as being totally unsympathetic (Nünning 49), Wuthering Heights puts readers in an uncomfortable situation when they find themselves sympathizing with Heathcliff and not being able to assign the label of hero or villain unequivocally. This is probably what disconcerted the first readers of the novel.

It is in fact Nelly’s sympathy of attention that allows us to understand Heathcliff’s inhuman behaviour and his necessity of revenge. Indeed, she is the one who recognizes that Hindley’s ill-treatment of Heathcliff “was enough to make a fiend of a saint” (65). She is able to heighten the interest of the reader and to engage him or her through “situational empathy,” which consists in presenting a character—in this case, Heathcliff—in a precarious position (Hogan 140).18 Both Richardson and Brontë’s dramatic technique assumes then a projection of the reader’s imagination beyond the limits of any single point of view to an ←79 | 80→interaction of multiple visions which allow for a more detached comprehension (Kinkead-Weekes 46). It goes without saying that confronting different perspectives and dealing with heterogeneous points of view rather than a single one has ethical consequences for the readers. They actively interfere in the narrative by trying to make sense of the data. According to Miller, “reading is intervention” and this intervention “makes me responsible for what happens in reading. It makes me not just a passive and detached witness but also a protagonist. I become a responsible agent who can be held accountable” (Miller, Literature as Conduct 256). Knowledge implies responsibility and such putting together of data is not a constative act but a performative one (Miller 257). As it happens in Henry James’ The Golden Bowl, Wuthering Heights “has raised ghosts through the naked power of language and has made the reader believe in people and actions that have absolutely no reality outside that conferred on them by the narrative voice” (Miller 265).

Like the witness-narrators, the readers are condemned to a sense of doubt and frustration that is like that of the characters, who have to rely on an indirect and doubtful access to the minds and feelings of other characters: “They too must believe rather than know” (Miller 272). Thus, Nelly can only speculate about Heathcliff’s origin—“Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen?” (56); about his whereabouts in his three-year-absence—“His upright carriage suggested the idea of his having been in the army” (95); or about Heathcliff and Catherine’s resurrection as wandering ghosts—“But the country folks, if you ask them, would swear on the Bible that he walks: there are those who speak to having met him near the church, and on the moor, and even within this house” (336). Of course, we can only know what the narrator chooses to tell us. The novel is a kind of testimony. It bears witness. The reader, like Nelly, will never be sure about the veracity of these conjectures, but the novel Emily Brontë wrote depends on leaving these questions unanswered. We are left with a sense of unappeased curiosity but, as Miller asserts, “literature keeps its secrets” (Miller, On Literature 40).

Emily Brontë makes a narratological subversion which brings the novel closer to the eighteenth-century novel, especially to Pamela, and which allows us readers to stand in different, and sometimes contradictory, ideological positions through our reading process, a fact that brings the novel closer to modernist and postmodernist fiction. In Nicholas Frangipane’s words, the novel puts into question the mimetic nature of narrative and interrogates “the limits of the ability of narrative to convey knowledge more than a hundred years before postmodernists approached this territory” (30). Its heterogeneity and ambiguity requires ←80 | 81→openness and acceptance of difficulty on the part of the readers and tacitly raises the question of whether there are absolute ethical values. It raises awareness about well-established ethical positions and makes readers reappraise their hierarchy of values. Indeed, Emily Brontë’s method could anticipate the presentation of what we now refer to as interior monologue and stream of consciousness. To conclude, I borrow Lovelace’s words in Clarissa to assert that Emily Brontë brilliantly traces human nature “thro’ its most secret recesses” (Clarissa V, 230).


To sum up, I have chosen Pamela as the subtext that best epitomizes the narrative quality that I wanted to highlight in Wuthering Heights: it is a rare and uncommon instance that a maidservant acquires narrative authority in Victorian literature. In this sense, the novel can be placed in the picaresque lineage of many eighteenth-century novels (Moll Flanders, Tom Jones, Castle Rackrent …). Therefore, Richardson and Brontë’s subversive decision of granting Pamela and Nelly with narrative authority and eschewing classical literary decorum implies a violation of the rigid social device and betrays the enormous fluidity of class status. In her role as “surrogate-parent servant figure” (Fernandez 47) and Geheimnisträger of the household, Nelly occupies a position of social inferiority but moral authority.

Through Nelly and Pamela’s focalized narrations, we can listen to many other voices in the novels. Their narrative is polyphonic since it includes different, and sometimes contradicting, points of view. Apart from this, the fact that there is no God-like narrator to monitor our reading or to make comments in the manner of Thackeray, we readers have to decide whether the narrators are totally reliable and, in case we decide they are not, we have to confront their supposed unreliability; to overcome our prejudices and to put into question our previous ethics and assumptions.

The witness-narrators represent then the concealed, silenced, (ir)responsibility of the author. As substitutive narrators, they do not just narrate but also interpret. Like readers, they must take responsibility for what they read (Miller, Literature as Conduct 257). The novel is therefore a clash of challenging responsibilities, each amending or cancelling the previous ones (260). Through these embedded narrators, both Richardson and Brontë raise what Foucault calls “subjugated knowledges” which have been silenced by social hegemonic discourses. Thus, although they are socially subaltern, they reach moral authority and acquire ←81 | 82→the role of counsellors. This confrontation with such heterogeneous points of view raises the readers’ ethical awareness while it confronts us with the question of whether there are absolute principles. Apart from this, these narrative voices summon speech acts, persons and events that have taken place at some point in the past (Miller, Literature as Conduct 273). Like the country folks in Wuthering Heights, these narrators raise ghosts; ghosts which remain in what Blanchot calls l’espace littèraire, and they are “ready to be invoked again by the narrative voice or by any reader of the novel” (Miller 273). Their ghostly apparitions haunt our feelings, as Catherine’s ghost haunts Heathcliff and just as Heathcliff haunts the imagination of Emily Brontë’s readers.


1My choice of Pamela is also founded on the fact that the Brontës had surely read it, as this passage of Jane Eyre demonstrates:

Each picture told a story; mysterious often to my undeveloped understanding and imperfect feelings, yet ever profoundly interesting: as interesting as the tales Bessie sometimes narrated on winter evenings, when she chanced to be in good humour; and when, having brought her ironing-table to the nursery hearth, she allowed us to sit about it, and while she got up Mrs. Reed’s lace frills, and crimped her nightcap borders, fed our eager attention with passages of love and adventure taken from old fairy tales and other ballads; or (as at a later period I discovered) from the pages of Pamela, and Henry, Earl of Moreland. (9)

In this passage, Jane remembers how Bessie used to read the children stories. It is not insignificant that Jane Eyre learns about Pamela’s adventures precisely from a servant. Besides, Sara J. Lodge asserts that “by the age of twenty-four [Charlotte Brontë] knew Samuel Richardson’s novels, including the seven-volume Sir Charles Grandison” (145). Apart from that, I justify my decision of choosing Richardson’s novel instead of any other eighteenth-century novel with the argument that both Pamela and Nelly Dean have been equally mistrusted and charged with accusations of unreliability, hypocrisy and self-interest and, at the same time, they have been praised for their vividness and loquacity.

2In the later sixteenth century, printed “news” first flourished in the form of printed ballads. In the seventeenth century, these ballads are sold by wandering chapmen and the claim to historicity has now become more intricate, exploiting the techniques of verification by first-hand and documentary witness that have developed during the late medieval and early modern periods. The old formula that story is “strange but true” becomes a claim to veracity (McKeon 47). Therefore, throughout ←82 | 83→the critical period of the origins of the English novel, “the claim to historicity is dominant” (McKeon 53).

3In fact, what was inherently new in Richardson’s strategy to make a fictional heroine consider her virtue as something of supreme importance was that he attributed such motives to a servant-girl. Whereas romance had usually ennobled feminine chastity, the other forms of fiction which included characters of low social class usually took a different view of feminine psychology (Watt, 188). It is precisely this historical and literary perspective which makes Pamela so groundbreaking: Richardson’s novel represents the first convergence of two opposed traditions in fiction. “It combines ‘high’ and ‘low’ motives, and even more important, it portrays the conflict between the two” (Watt 188). This is precisely what Fielding considered to be the moral defect of the story, as he made his Shamela remark: “I thought once of making a little fortune by my person. I now intend to make a great one by my virtue” (29).

4There are several instances of “writing to the moment” in Jane Eyre. One of the clearest and most significant takes place in the garden, before Mr. Rochester asks Jane to marry him:

Sweet-briar and southernwood, jasmine, pink, and rose have long been yielding their evening sacrifice of incense: this new scent is neither of shrub nor flower; it is—I know it well—it is Mr. Rochester’s cigar. I look round and I listen. I see trees laden with ripening fruit. I hear a nightingale warbling in a wood half a mile off; no moving form is visible, no coming step audible; but that perfume increases: I must flee. I make for the wicket leading to the shrubbery, and I see Mr. Rochester entering. I step aside into the ivy recess; he will not stay long: he will soon return whence he came, and if I sit still he will never see me. (248)

5Shamela exerted great influence on later counter-fictions of Pamela, like Eliza Haywood’s Anti-Pamela or James Parry’s The True Anti-Pamela, both published in 1741. Both authors borrowed Fielding’s idea that Pamela’s obsessive concern for her virtue was indeed a devious plot to exploit it and ascend socially through marital misalliance (Keymer and Sabor 83).

6In Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, the servant Gabriel Betteredge, also a servant-narrator, has a “detective fever” for gathering clues as to what has happened to the moonstone. Like Nelly, Gabriel also plays the role of house detective (131).

7Caleb Williams, the hero of Godwin’s novel, also functions as a Geheimnisträger of Mr. Falkland’s terrible crime. Like Nelly, Caleb becomes an agent of surveillance: “I determined to place myself as a watch upon my master” (105) and he learns first-hand what it is to be the bearer of his master’s dishonourable secrets. Similarly, in Jane Eyre, Mrs. Fairfax also functions as the Geheimnisträger of her master, Mr. Rochester, keeping in secret that his mad wife is locked in Thornfield. When she hears that Mr. Rochester has asked Jane to marry him, Mrs. Fairfax advises Jane ←83 | 84→to be on her guard since “all is not gold that glitters” (265), but she refrains from revealing Mr. Rochester’s disgraceful secret to her.

8Fernandez claims that “Nelly is … the narratival manifestation of the darker selflessness that is Heathcliff” (75). Both represent the fluid nature of class as well as its baffling and perverse semiotics (75).

9As Henry Staten has put it, Nelly is in fact

a skilful storyteller, so spellbinding in her way of imagining the world of erotic love that she herself can never enter that for a century and a half her way of imagining it, rather than the world itself, as EB makes it evident beneath Nelly’s imaginative overlays, has compelled the imaginations of readers, as a consequence of which these readers have relegated her to a marginal role. (Staten 133)

10Erin Nyborg has claimed that Wuthering Heights constitutes “an unacknowledged reworking of Maria Edgeworth’s Castle Rackrent” (3), positing therefore a neglected intertextual filiation of Wuthering Heights. According to Nyborg, although there is no direct evidence that Emily Brontë read Castle Rackrent, the Brontës’ Irish origins and their love of Scott (who praised Edgeworth’s novels) suggests that Emily Brontë could have read her novels. Nyborg argues that Wuthering Heights reflects the gender and class conflicts of the late 1840s by setting them in relation with the political and class turmoil taking place in Ireland. Thus, Brontë imaginatively transferred Ireland into Yorkshire (10). In addition, the intertextual similarities between Wuthering Heights and Castle Rackrent are there in profusion: servant-narrators, social upstarts, legal dispossession, domestic violence, etc.

11Muriel Spark and Derek Stanford argue that Joseph expresses himself more realistically than any of the other more complex characters and that, despite his satirical function, in Joseph’s monologues and statements, Emily Brontë certainly achieved one of the most authentic uses of country speech in English fiction (qtd. in Bloom 40).


XIV, 366
ISBN (Book)
Publication date
2021 (April)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2021. XIV, 366 pp.

Biographical notes

María Valero Redondo (Author)

Dr. María Valero Redondo holds a European Doctorate obtained at the University of Córdoba, Spain. She is Lecturer at the Department of English and German Philology, University of Córdoba. She has been a Visiting Student at the University of Cambridge and the University of Kent. Her main research interest is nineteenth-century English literature.


Title: Determining Wuthering Heights